Undergraduate Profile: Stephanie Heung ’15

When you first meet Stephanie Heung, her passion will certainly be apparent. Her grin is infectious, her speech is confident. The energy she exudes is present in all aspects of her life — especially in the field of global health. Currently completing her undergraduate degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, Heung is committed to her interest in global health and related policy, at Yale and beyond.

Heung entered her freshman year at Yale not only determined to work toward a major in the biological sciences, but also to double major in English. In her time here, she has edited for the Yale Daily News, contributed to the Huffington Post, and traveled extensively. Her busy extracurricular schedule and varied experiences have led to her well-founded passion for global health work. Global health, as she perceives it, requires not only the best doctors and scientists, but individuals who have a nuanced view of the social, economic, and cultural determinants of morbidity. Heung aims to meet these standards, and she already has relevant internship experience preparing her for a career in global health work. No matter what she does after graduating in May, Heung will be making a positive impact by integrating her background in the sciences with her desire to enact real world change.

What first made Heung realize that she wanted to apply science outside of the lab was a summer job at MEDASSET, an environmental nonprofit in Athens, Greece. The NGO aims to preserve marine and coastal habitats in the Mediterranean, and focuses specifically on sea turtles. Originally, Heung’s internship was in environmental education. However, she quickly gravitated towards the policy aspect of the nonprofit’s work. At the time, MEDASSET was working on a policy report investigating a mass sea turtle death in Egypt, and Heung was able to get involved. In helping with the report, she realized that instead of pursuing a career path in pure biology research as she had planned, she wanted to combine science and policy work to make changes around the world.

Her interest in global health quickly followed. In her junior year, Heung became intensively involved in MedX, an organization that seeks to expose STEM majors — mainly premeds — to the social, political, and economic facets of medicine. Heung felt that although STEM majors may not necessarily consider issues concerning ethics and socioeconomic factors, these topics are important in the actual delivery of medical care.

“I started off on one end of the spectrum wanting to do pure biology — proteins, DNA, lab research — and here I was on the complete opposite end, wanting to study science in its most applied form — when the vaccine is already developed,” Heung said. She acknowledges that issues in global health are challenging, but is motivated by this fact rather than deterred. Heung is fascinated by the big questions in global health, and by the complicated factors at play in the health of populations: “How to get technologies to the world’s poorest people? And how do we do this in the context of a people’s culture, religion, and history?”

Now, Heung interns at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She is currently working on a project to assess the state of childhood tuberculosis in a number of Asian countries. She interviews people who work for national tuberculosis programs in these countries and looks at government documents to examine current policies. With the information that Heung is gathering, USAID will be better able to analyze policies concerning childhood tuberculosis. The ultimate goal is to discern flaws in these global health strategies originating from government, and especially to explore the gap between policy and its implementation.

In addition to her internships and long list of extracurriculars, Heung is well-traveled. During the summer following her freshman year at Yale, she traveled to China on a Richard U. Light Fellowship for language study. Acting on her hunger to see the world, Heung has also seen Greece, Ecuador, and Morocco. She hopes to visit as many countries as possible while she has the time. This May, she plans on hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Among her many travels, Heung has visited Ecuador. Image courtesy of Stephanie Heung.
Among her many travels, Heung has visited Ecuador. Image courtesy of Stephanie Heung.

Heung’s passion and energy are evident in every facet of her life, as shown by her numerous accomplishments and impactful work. From her dedication to MEDASSET to her work with USAID, Heung has become increasingly committed to public health policy. In the future, she hopes to launch a career in global health policy. Whatever she does and wherever she goes, Heung brings her adventurous spirit and desire to grow — qualities that are inspiring to those around her.

Cover Image: Heung is well-traveled, and hopes to continue her adventures around the globe in years to come. Here (second from left), she rides a camel in Morocco. Image courtesy of Stephanie Heung.