Many of Bryn Mawr’s recent alumnae/i might recognize Tsega Meshesha’s name from her work on the Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) Committee, but they may not know about her work in public health in the U.S. and in Ethiopia.
A sociology major who graduated in 2013, Meshesha originally thought about going to medical school but realized that her true passion lay in research. While at Bryn Mawr, she developed a particular focus on questioning health disparities among women of color and developing more effective preventive care for populations.
As a recipient of the Katharine Hepburn Fellowship, she traveled to Ethiopia to work with young female university students in Addis Ababa around issues of safe sex and the prevalence of illegal abortions. This experience, along with other internships and some eye-opening courses at Bryn Mawr, confirmed her choice of career path. And the mentorship of Sociology Professor Mary Osirim, with whom she worked senior year, convinced Meshesha that she could pursue a higher degree in public health.
Meshesha’s work with the GOLD Committee is a reflection of Bryn Mawr’s role in her personal and professional development. “Being surrounded by a community of like-minded peers and supportive faculty allowed me to continuously think outside the box, taking risks and chances on myself, [which] made me a better researcher and allowed me to succeed,” she says.
Her role on the GOLD Committee allows her to give back to Bryn Mawr and impact the College in ways that would have benefited her younger self. As a student, she often wished that she had seen more people like herself in positions of leadership. Ten years after matriculating, she hopes to act as a liaison between Bryn Mawr and “future Tsegas” who can see themselves in her success.
After graduating, Meshesha held a research assistant position at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She was excited to be involved with another Seven Sisters institution as well as to focus on her interest in identifying problems and developing solutions in health care systems. While at Wellesley, she again traveled to Ethiopia, this time to investigate the mental health needs of women with obstetric fistula. “The work emphasized my passion to work in the community and identify mechanisms to improve health service delivery in a culturally sensitive manner,” she recalls.
The cultural complexities of health care in Ethiopia both challenge and inspire her. Her work with vulnerable populations has spurred her to proactively acknowledge and address issues of privilege and power through rigorous ethical reviews. Unlike working on domestic projects, where the focus is on efficiency, international work requires her to focus first and foremost on building trust with her research participants. Her own background can be an asset when navigating these relationships: “I have to be cognizant of my own privilege as an Ethiopian-American,” she says. “I am fortunate enough to know and navigate easily between both worlds.”
Now with a master’s degree from the Boston University School of Public Health, Meshesha is looking forward to broadening her research experiences. When thinking about her future, she considers working for a think tank or other organization that develops policy recommendations for lawmakers.
For Meshesha, access to culturally sensitive and inclusive health care is a basic human right. No matter where she ends up in her career, she sees each new project and research position as an opportunity to strengthen her toolbox and amplify her voice.