Alumni Career Spotlight: Sana Syal

Sana Syal
Environmental Policy and Management ‘10
Minor: Public Health
Master of Public Health, University of Michigan '14
Program Manager, Medical Home Network

Sana graduated from SENR in 2010 after majoring in Environmental Policy and Management. During her time in SENR, she worked as a part-time Sana Syal '10researcher, participated in student organizations, and completed several internships. After graduation, Sana took some time off school before pursuing a graduate degree in Public Health at the University of Michigan. Today she is a lead Program Manager for Technical Operations at Medical Home Network, an organization providing technology solutions to support care coordination for vulnerable populations.

Read the full interview with Sana:

A Glance at Sana’s Current Work

I’m currently a Program Manager at an organization called Medical Home Network in Chicago, IL. We focus on providing innovative technology solutions to support care coordination for vulnerable populations. We work with our partner organizations to develop workflows around the use of our tools that allow for better tracking of patient needs and referrals, sharing documents across disparate settings, engaging patients with technology solutions, and increasing access to specialty care.

Outside of my day job, I also volunteer with our neighborhood mutual aid organization to organize food donations from local grocery stores – particularly in response to the impact of COVID-19 in our communities.

What does a typical day look like? 
What I enjoy the most is that there is no typical day. Healthcare is constantly evolving, new partnerships and initiatives are continuously made, and we have to keep up. Generally, my days consist of engaging with stakeholders around programming needs; sometimes that means ensuring things are running smoothly with our diabetic retinopathy screening programs, addressing evaluation and reporting needs for our care coordination tools, or creating new partnerships with community organizations.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 
The most rewarding part of my job is feeling like I’m making a positive impact. Much of what I do involves a patient and their experience navigating a complex healthcare system, and I never lose sight of that.

I definitely recommend getting some work experience first when considering higher education. Taking a couple years off not only gave me more professional experience, but it also helped me get a better sense of what I wanted to learn more about.

Professional Development

I received my B.S. in Environmental Policy and Management, and a Minor in Public Health. At the time the Environmental Policy and Management focus wasn’t officially a degree you could pursue, but my fearless advisor assured me it would be by the time I graduated; I steered the course with the curriculum and successfully received the degree!

During my time in SENR I worked part-time as a researcher, focusing on how we could engage the public health system in minimizing anthropogenic climate change. I also involved myself in a few student groups, namely the Pakistani-American Student Association, Students for a Sustainable Campus, and “ONE OSU,” which is an advocacy organization in support of justice and equity to end extreme poverty.

Did you have any internships or seasonal positions in college?
I did. One summer I interned with Green Energy Ohio to assist in their community green energy workshops and events. Going into my senior year, I interned with the Center for Disease Control’s Office of Sustainability in Atlanta, GA. At the CDC, I was part of a cohort called the Collegiate Leaders for Environmental Health, and I supported the publication of a series of white papers connecting environmental sustainability to its benefits on human health.

Which experience do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?
Different experiences contributed to my professional development in different ways. For example, conducting research during undergrad greatly contributed to strengthening my analytical skills and helped me practice how to present detailed data in digestible formats. Through an AmeriCorps program known as Chicago Health Corps, I led health education classes for youth and adults, planned community events, and engaged community residents in conversation around neighborhood assets and needs. I could go on, but the key takeaway is every experience can be a valuable learning opportunity.

Navigating the Job Market

What did you do post-graduation?
After graduation, I traveled, and I took time off from school. I definitely recommend getting some work experience first when considering higher education. Taking a couple years off not only gave me more professional experience, but it also helped me get a better sense of what I wanted to learn more about. Once I got to graduate school, I was able to take what we were learning and connect it with real-world applications.

What was most important to you in your job search?
I struggle to answer this, because sometimes you just need a job and don’t have the benefit of picking and choosing. What I prioritized though when thinking about my overall career path, was looking at places that had a mission I connected with. It didn’t have to be this perfect fit that met all the criteria, because again I think every experience is a learning opportunity, but there had to be something that called to my passion of making a positive impact..

Advice for Current Students

Sometimes it’s challenging to figure out where you want to go next, and that’s okay. What helped me tremendously is talking to people who had been where I was, to understand why they ultimately chose a certain path, and would they do it again or try something different. Think about a job that intrigues or really interests you, find out who is in those roles and reach out to them for an informational conversation. You won’t necessarily always hear what you want or expect, but it will be helpful feedback to gauge how you feel and your next steps.