Terina Keller, SSH’16, is a Torch Scholar and a selfless humanitarian, a global citizen and a member of the Huntington 100. Here, she reflects on her past five years at Northeastern and looks ahead to her promising career in public health.
You studied sociology, with a concentration in public health. What’s next?
I want to earn my master’s in public health, but my immediate plan is to work in the field to find out what I want to focus on. One potential option is to return to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I worked on co-op as a project assistant in 2014. Another possibility is working at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where I recently interviewed for a position that would enable me to work closely with low-income high school students while helping to place them in STEM-related internships at the hospital.
You helped your mom raise your two younger siblings when she was battling breast cancer and you were just 10 years old. How did that experience help to shape your career path?
She was a single mother, working two jobs, and we were moving from house to house with two newborns. I almost had to repeat the fourth grade because I missed so much school as a result of staying home to take care of her and the kids, and my mom didn’t always have the resources to get the kind of treatments that she needed. It made me value health and made me realize that it’s not something that should be taken for granted. When I enrolled at Northeastern, I decided to study sociology because I knew that I wanted to help people. I started thinking about my mom and what she went through, and determined that keeping people healthy was what I wanted to do.
What role did the Torch Scholars Program play in your success at Northeastern?
It was everything. After high school, I thought about going to community college or waiting altogether to attend college because I simply couldn’t afford it. But then I got a letter of acceptance from Northeastern to be part of the Torch program and it completely changed my life. Over the past five years, the staff and the other students in the program have been very supportive, helping me get through tough times and assimilate into the college culture. We support each other and try to relay that support to the younger Torch scholars to let them know that they’re not alone.
You completed two Dialogue of Civilizations programs to Italy, where you studied the country’s language, culture, and healthcare system; studied abroad in Costa Rica, where you focused on sustainability and human rights; and worked on co-op in Panama at a small indigenous elementary school, where you taught English. What life lessons did these global experiential learning opportunities teach you?
All of them taught me to be flexible, to go with the flow. When you experience a new culture, it’s important to respect it, to learn from it, to refrain from judging it, because everybody operates differently.
What will you miss most about the Northeastern community?
Two things come to mind. First, I’m going to miss the community itself. I’m going to miss walking through campus, running into a friend, and then striking up a totally unexpected conversation. Second, I’m going to miss my sociology classes. I’m going to miss the discussions, the debates, the interesting ideas brought up by the students and faculty.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Consider all the opportunities that come your way, whether it’s through studying abroad or co-op. College will go by quickly, so take risks and try new things. Do what makes you happy.