ETSU grad gets set to start work with Amnesty International in NYC

Brandon Paykamian • Dec 17, 2018 at 9:16 AM

East Tennessee State University grad Lorelei Teegarden got a job offer she wasn’t expecting In November, as she continued her public health internship developing a charter school with the Sports Foundation in the Bronx.

While in New York City, Teegarden, 25, was hired to work with Amnesty International, an international human rights organization. With Amnesty, she said she hopes to use the skills she gained obtaining her dual degree in Spanish and public health, with a concentration in community health.

“I changed my major a lot in college. Landing in public health was sort of an accident, but I’ve come to appreciate the way the program is done at ETSU,” she said of going from biology to pre-med and finally to public health.

In the ETSU College of Public Health under Founding Dean Randy Wykoff, students often learn about the “social determinants” of public health — factors such as poverty, economic inequality, racial and ethnic disparities, early life experiences and education. Teegarden said looking at public health from a “social justice perspective” and from a human rights perspective was what sparked her initial interest in working with Amnesty.

“A big thing we talk about is determinants of health. It can be an intersectional social justice (field of) study,” she said.

When it comes to community health, Teegarden said human rights are a major component. She said she’s interested in the legal, political and social policy angles of public health.

“Human rights are a big part of that, especially since they work with a lot of immigrants. They work at the intersection of a lot of those factors,” she said. “As a human rights organization, they try to make sure that the human rights convention set forth by the United Nations (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is being followed.”

Starting in January, Teegarden will work as a fundraiser for the organization before hopefully moving up to a full-time position and then a team leader position, where she will train the next incoming group of human rights advocates and activists. Eventually, Teegarden, who has also previously taught English as a second language, said she hopes to use her background in Spanish to work with immigrant populations in the United States.

She said recent controversies surrounding President Donald Trump’s hardline anti-immigration policies have had many human rights advocates such as herself concerned.

“Of course, I was interested in the legal advocacy they’re sending to people at the border with this caravan of people coming here for opportunities and safety,” she said. ”And these asylum seekers coming to the U.S. getting tear-gassed — that’s unacceptable under the U.N. convention.” 

Before she takes her job in January shortly after receiving her degree Saturday, Teegarden said she has been working to make the necessary preparations, including brushing up as much as possible on her conversational Spanish. Though she’s confident she “could do any job in Spanish” she said it “takes a lifetime” to be 100 percent fluent.

Just a few days before commencement, Teegarden said she was still shocked to be selected to work with Amnesty in New York, an opportunity she said she’s been excited about for a long time. She said she has been mentally preparing herself, as well. 

“I was really shocked when they said, ‘We’d love to offer you this position,’” she said. “It’s been my dream to move to New York since I was a teenager, so it’s been over a decade that I’ve wondered when and how I can get there.” 

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