'Put yourself out there': U of T grad Maame De-Heer on how she built a career amid COVID-19

Maame De-Heer
Maame De-Heer, who graduates with a master's degree from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, says she was determined to make the most of her time at U of T as much “as my strength and capacity would allow me” (photo by Mike Tamakloe)

The pandemic couldn’t stop Maame De-Heer from graduating from the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health this fall – it couldn’t even slow her down.

De-Heer, who will receive her master of public health in social and behavioural health science, with a dual collaboration in global health and health services and policy research on Nov. 21, has big plans for life after graduation.

The Ghanaian-born grad hopes to revamp her family’s 17-year-old orphanage in Ghana and she’s starting her own organization – The Power of Love Foundation Canada – a grassroots approach to improving the wellbeing of Black people in Canada. She has already secured funding from the City of Toronto for the organization’s Single Mothers Project to aid single Ghanaian mothers in Etobicoke who need support during COVID-19.

De-Heers, who moved to Canada when she was 13, says a public health internship at the Tema General Hospital in Ghana sparked a desire to bridge the health gap for marginalized and underserved communities.

“Public health is a very broad concept and sometimes when you actually go to the Global South, you can see the effect of the lack of public health implementation and surveillance in action,” she says. “When I saw the lack of public health technology and the lack of tools that can improve the lives of people, I knew that this was it. This is what I need to do.”

At U of T, De-Heer was determined to be as involved as she could. She was a cohort representative in her first year. She served as the financial officer for the Black Graduate Students Association. A finalist in the School of Graduate Studies’ three-minute Thesis Competition, she was also an ACORN advisory team member who helped user experience designers make timetables easier for students to use.

And that’s only a sliver of her activities in the past two years.

“I was at U of T,” De-Heer says. “I did not want to do this program and go to this school without taking advantage of resources they had.

“My plan was to engage in a lot of things – as much as my strength and capacity would allow me.”

When the lockdown began, De-Heer switched gears and began exploring ways to get involved in the issues she cares about online, turning to LinkedIn to extend her network. In the same way that some people post pictures of their meals on Instagram, De-Heer says she shares her achievements online. “I keep it professional and move along.”

The shift to online took a lot out of her. De-Heer says she had to build the strength to find resources, foster online connections and share her successes with the world. But the effort opened doors.

De-Heer was recently selected as a delegate to RBC’s Future Launch’s Fast Forward 2020 – Youth Summit. Only 120 of 1,000 applicants were chosen to take part. Delegates meet other young people across the country to discuss and connect on solutions for Canada.

Recently, she was asked to speak at the panel “Prescribing Equity: Unpacking Racial Health Disparities for BIPOC communities” with scholars she admired: Camille Orridge, Lee Maracle and Dalla Lana Assistant Professor Roberta Timothy.

“When I got the call to speak and then I saw the event flyer, I nearly cried,” says De-Heer. “’I’m on a panel with the Roberta Timothy. I was grateful and that’s how I realized that putting myself out there has benefited me.”

De-Heer is ready to put her degree to work – and to draw on the skills she developed during the pandemic.

“A lot of people need your knowledge and want you to share it with them,” De-Heer says. “Never be scared to put yourself out there and share what you have done.

“It might be the stepping-stone for your progress.”

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