Maggie To

toI am a senior majoring in Biological Sciences and History and Philosophy of Science, with minors in Chemistry and Religious Studies. After taking a year off to pursue community activism, I hope to continue my education at medical school for an MD/MPH.

My passion for social activism was sparked by a six-week volunteer experience in Coclé, Panama in 2010. The more I shared life with my Panamanian community— cheering as we watched the World Cup, crying with my host family after our grandmother passed, and sweating alongside my community members as we planted a vegetable garden to promote healthy eating, the more I fell in love with volunteerism. I was drawn by the potential to transform other peoples' lives and the ability to transform my own.

When I returned home, I was a changed woman. I immersed myself in books about social justice - I read about girls in the sex trade, about health and educational disparities, and of the need for social change. I decided to put my passion into action by co-establishing the Panther International Justice Mission, Pitt's chapter of the human rights organization, IJM. Our chapter has grown to over 50 members, and we are passionate about educating our campus about human rights violations.

In the summer of 2012, I longed to travel again but hesitated because of responsibilities linked to medical school applications. After much deliberation, I decided to put off my application for a year and I flew to Faridabad, India for six weeks to teach English and intern at local hospitals. I could not have made a better choice; what I experienced in India shook my world. I will never forget the afternoon I sat beside one of my students, Neha, in our dimly lit classroom of the slum school. In a swift move that caught me by surprise, she reached over and felt the texture of my palm. "Soft," she said with a smile. Neha placed my hand on her palm and said quietly, "Hard." Neha told me she spent her afternoons cleaning and caring for her younger brothers. Dismayed, I asked her if she was pursuing education after she finished the slum school. Neha shook her head. "Poor," she whispered.

I learned that many of my other students and patients I interacted with had similar stories to share. Poverty cheated them out of basic necessities, like quality education and adequate healthcare. I wanted so badly to intervene, but how could I? I knew then that I wanted to be a physician who both practices medicine and advocates for the underserved, a decision that has prompted me to pursue an MD/MPH after college.

My four years at Pitt have been marked by four years of growth and by a birth of passion. I discovered my love for serving the community, and am excited to continue learning about what it looks like to serve. To my fellow students, I encourage you to do the same. Community involvement doesn't always take the form of an overseas adventure -- it can happen right here, right now. Stay informed. Pick up a copy of the New York Times in Towers Lobby or peruse online news resources. By any and all means, keep in touch with global and domestic issues. Challenge yourself by volunteering at UPMC, spend a Saturday morning at a homeless charity, or get involved in one of Pitt's many activist groups. The world needs your intellect, your creativity, and your energy to bring about much needed social change. At a campus like Pitt, the opportunities are ample – it’s up to us to reach out and seize them.