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Continuing the legacy: A collection of journal entries from the inaugural Cora Faith Walker Scholar

Written by Celeste Sangster, BA in Medical Anthropology; BA in Public Policy candidate at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Cora Faith Walker Scholar for the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Former MO Representative Cora Faith Walker speaks in the MO House chamber. (Photo: St. Louis Public Radio)

December 2022: It is winter break and I am writing application essays for summer research programs. People always say to address the prompts as personally and deeply as possible, but the idea taunts me. What if my passions are too specific, ambitious, or unrealistic? Ignoring these thoughts, I disclose my aspirations to transform maternal healthcare, expand midwifery practice, immerse myself in different birth cultures, improve U.S. maternal health policy, and reduce racial disparities. I hit submit, and the wait begins.

March 2023: To reduce nervousness, I decided to simply forget that I ever applied to the WashU Summer Research Program. That approach was incredibly successful because when I got an email of acceptance into the 2023 Washington University Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program on the Public & Global Health Track my first reaction was confusion. The words “you have been selected to participate,” didn’t make any sense. My emotions went from confusion to denial to a mixture of joy, relief, and excitement. “They actually want me,” I thought. “They want me.”

Four days later, I got another unexpected email that read “You have been chosen to be named the inaugural Cora Faith Walker Scholar in the program this year!” I froze, once again in denial. I read the scholar description twice before researching the former Missouri State Representative, Cora Faith Walker, who passed away in 2022 at the age of 37. I realize what an incredible honor it is to continue Walker’s legacy of advocating for maternal health, education, and justice with the support of the Cora Faith Walker Foundation and Timothy McBride, PhD, MS.

June 2023: It is only a couple of weeks into the program and every moment has been phenomenal. Working under the guidance of Abigail R. Barker, PhD and Timothy McBride, PhD, I am researching evidence-based policy strategies to implement Medicaid reimbursement for Missouri home visiting models. Studies show that home visiting effectively promotes healthy pregnancy, improves early childhood health outcomes, reduces the risk of child maltreatment, and introduces community resources to disadvantaged or historically marginalized populations.

Blog post author, Celeste Sangster

I grew up in a low-income family, in a little town that made the world feel incredibly small. I never thought that at 20 years old, I would be participating in a summer program at a world-renowned research institution, under expert health economists, surrounded by other motivated and ambitious students. Most importantly, I am carrying the name of a strong leader and advocate for reproductive justice, access to healthcare, quality education, and mental health services. With the support of my peers, program administrators, mentors, and donors I strive to be more like Walker every day and continue her legacy. As a young woman at the very start of her career, I can not think of a more meaningful opportunity to make a difference in my community and leave my mark. I am in debt to the Institute for Public Health for bringing me one step closer to achieving my goals.