Grace Cooney arrived at the University of South Carolina in fall 2016 straight out of the university’s pre-medical high school summer program. Since then, the pursuit of her ideal medical career has continued unabated, manifesting itself most recently in the award of a $30,000 Rotary Global Grant.
This prestigious award, given to only a handful of South Carolinians every year, will allow Cooney to pursue a master's of science degree in migration, culture and global health at Queen Mary University of London in 2020.
The Rotary Global Grant is not only shaping Cooney’s future, though — it also required a great deal of preparation on Cooney’s part. As a first-year student, Cooney met with a faculty member who explained what Rotary Global Grant was and advised her to get connected with the university’s Office of Fellowships and Scholar Programs (OFSP).
After getting on the OFSP’s mailing list, Cooney pursued every chance to learn more about the Rotary Global Grant she could.
“I would attend stuff and learn more about it before I was able to apply, because I was still really interested in the opportunity,” Cooney said.
When the time to apply finally came around, Cooney began searching for a rotary sponsor for the grant. After asking around Columbia’s clubs, she settled on Capital Club, a rotary club with several university faculty members among its ranks.
Cooney said she was impressed at her experience with the Capital Club, which included meeting some of the club's members and attending meetings where guest speakers, such as former university president Harris Pastides, gave speeches.
“Each one of their members is so accomplished in their own right and so willing to share their expertise," Cooney said. “They are just so willing to hear other people's perspectives, and to use that to better themselves, but also their communities.”
Focusing on healthcare from this community perspective is a large part of Cooney’s mission. As a longtime volunteer at the Carolina Survivor Clinic, South Carolina’s only refugee care center, Cooney had the chance to interact with an entire population.
“In addition to having those individual relationships, I was able to kind of see common struggles,” Cooney said.
Cooney also said she enjoys being able to “make widespread change” by interacting so closely with a group of people. Madhura Pande, Cooney’s roommate and classmate, emphasized Cooney’s “unique interest in the community aspect of healthcare.”
"She looks at healthcare from a sense of, 'What are the issues in this entire community? Is there equal access to health care? What are the disparities here?' Things like that, which I think is very, very cool, and she brings that lens to our class all the time," Pande said.
After obtaining the Capital Club’s sponsorship, Cooney formally applied for the grant in June on the rotary district level, encompassing the eastern half of South Carolina. During this process, she was aided not only by the Capital Club, but also by the university's director of national fellowships, Jennifer Bess.
"[Cooney] was able to make the case that her interests and background demonstrated that she will have the ability both to do the degree, but also that [community healthcare] is the long-term path that she wants to contribute to,” Bess said.
As a result, Cooney was accepted for an interview in Charleston in August, after which she was awarded the Rotary Global Grant.
While in London, Grace is planning on continuing her work with refugee populations, specifically with the sociological and socioeconomic principles that affect the healthcare they receive.
"I found a degree program that focuses on migratory populations, and not just treating them from a public health perspective, but also considering the cultural ramifications and other factors that might be at play in order to provide them better healthcare," said Cooney.