#ElonGrad 2022 spotlight: Deena Elrefai, public health studies and international & global studies

In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences is shining the spotlight on distinguished members of the Class of 2022 from a wide array of disciplines.

Elon College Fellow, Lumen Scholar and Periclean Scholar Deena Elrefai ’22 double majored in international and global studies and public health studies and minored in Spanish.

Elrefai is also a recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Student Award to teach English internationally.

She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Delta Pi, Sigma Iota Rho and Kappa Omicron Nu honor societies. In spring 2022, she was one of two Elon student recipients of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recognizing excellence of character and service to humanity.

Tell us about your Lumen Prize research project.

I worked on Lumen research entitled ”To us, we’re different, to them, we’re the same”: Dimensions of Diversity and Health in the Latinx Communities. I worked with Dr. Stephanie Baker in Public Health Studies and I was also a part of the Health, Equity, and Racism (HER) Lab, led by Dr. Baker and Dr. Yanica Faustin. I presented at SURF 2021 and 2022, the Minority Health Conference at UNC Chapel Hill in February 2022, and the American Public Health Association Conference in October 2021.

Who were your mentors and how have they influenced you?

I have had so many amazing mentors and teachers at Elon. Primarily, I’ve worked with Dr. Baker as my research mentor, Dr. Evan Small as my supervisor in my role with Experiential Learning and Outdoor Adventures, and Professor Amanda Tapler as my Periclean Scholars mentor. I’ve learned so much from each of them, and know that my Elon experience would have been completely different without their support and guidance.

What are your plans following graduation?

I am moving to Tucson, Arizona, in June to work for an organization called Borderlinks as a delegation leader to lead educational programs focused on refugees, migrants and border issues. Then, in March of 2023, I will move to Uruguay with the Fulbright award to teach English.

What experiences have been most valuable to you at Elon?

Part of the reason I chose Elon is because of the diversity of experience available to students. Yes, I invested myself academically and had a rich academic experience here. But, I also worked two jobs on campus, held several leadership positions, applied for fellowships, did research, and created an extensive community network of friends and mentors. As I reflect on my time here, I think that last piece – community – has been the thing that makes Elon so memorable. Some friends and I made an intramural team this year called the “Bleep Blops”; while it seems super silly, it actually became one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my time at Elon. I’m so grateful to all the people who showed me how important it is to relax and be present with people, and I hope that future Elon students feel equipped to seek out their community and their people here.

What advice would you give a first-year student?

Every single first-year is looking for friends, opportunities and involvement. No one knows what they’re doing, and if you are willing to reach out, offer support, and really get to know others, you will create transformative relationships that you will keep for all four years (and hopefully after). Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Chances are, someone has been waiting for a student like you to come along and set up something great.