#WeAreElliott: Gary Zeron

#WeAreElliott: Gary Zeron

Gary Zeron smiles. Gary Zeron, M.A. in International Development Studies, 2024, #WeAreElliott

Gary Zeron is an International Development Studies grad student with a concentration Global Health. He is a first generation student and American who graduated Cum Laude from Villanova University with a Bachelor of Arts in Global Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Peace & Justice. In addition to studying at the Elliott School, he takes courses at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, specializing in Global Health solutions for community-oriented primary care and public health. His focus lies in Global Health in regions such as the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. His goal is to oversee Community Health Worker (CHW) programs to promote public health in both local and international contexts. Through his education at these institutions, he aspires to gain the theoretical background, practical skills, and field experience necessary to enhance health access and strengthen healthcare systems in high-need and low-resource communities. His future plans include obtaining an MPH in Global Health or Community-Oriented Primary Care (COPC) to further contribute to global health initiatives.

When did you realize you wanted an international career? What led you to choose the Elliott School?

I realized my aspiration for an international career at a young age while growing up in a small blue-collar community in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Witnessing and experiencing close-mindedness, biases, and intolerance towards immigrant communities and people of color, I felt compelled to become a legacy-builder for my family and overcome the barriers to education that often hinder individuals from backgrounds like mine. As the first in my family to pursue an international career, I aimed to challenge and unlearn the racism and xenophobia ingrained in me due to my small-town upbringing. My ultimate goal was to dedicate my career to social justice, cultural humility, and global citizenship.

Drawing inspiration from my Spanish-speaking, undocumented single mother’s challenges in the United States, I developed a deep passion for foreign language study and recognized the vital role of communication in advocating for and promoting social justice for disadvantaged individuals worldwide. The Elliott School caught my attention because of its renowned International Development Studies (IDS) program, which held a strong reputation as a leading program in the field of development. I was particularly drawn to the opportunity to relocate to Washington, D.C., a global hub for international development policy and practice, and study at a university known for its exceptional resources and academic excellence.  Situated in the heart of the nation’s capital, the school offers unparalleled access to government institutions, international organizations, think tanks, and NGOs. This proximity opens doors to valuable internships, networking opportunities, and engagement with policymakers, enabling me to gain practical experience and actively contribute to the field of international affairs.

Lastly, the Elliott School’s emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches to international affairs strongly resonated with my academic and career goals. The school encourages collaboration across various disciplines, such as political science, economics, sociology, and public health. This interdisciplinary approach equips students like me with a well-rounded skill set and a broader understanding of global issues, essential for effectively addressing the complex challenges present in the field of global health and development.

Where do you currently work, intern or volunteer, and how does it fit in with your career goals?

My work at Us Helping Us, People Into Living Inc. directly relates to my passion for Community-Oriented Primary Care (COPC) and health systems strengthening. Us Helping Us is a community-based organization that focuses on health and sexual wellness for marginalized populations, particularly Black and Brown MSMs and Transgender, Non-conforming individuals in the DMV area. Community-Oriented Primary Care emphasizes a comprehensive and community-centered approach to healthcare, addressing not only individual health needs but also the social, economic, and cultural factors that influence health within a community. By working at Us Helping Us, I have the opportunity to engage directly with the community, understand their specific health challenges, and implement strategies to improve health outcomes at an individual level. Through my work at Us Helping Us, I have gained firsthand experience in identifying health system gaps, collaborating with community partners, and developing initiatives to enhance healthcare access and services for marginalized populations. By combining my passion for COPC with my work at Us Helping Us, I am able to contribute to both individual and community health while also strengthening the broader healthcare system for target communities in D.C. My experiences in identifying clients’ health needs, implementing targeted interventions, and fostering community partnerships have provided me with a solid foundation to further my goals of coordinating health strengthening programs and increasing healthcare access for vulnerable populations, both locally and internationally.

Describe the pros and cons of being a full-time versus part-time student at the Elliott School.

As a full-time student and part-time employee, I have been able to strike a balance between two crucial aspects of my future career. My time at the Elliott School has allowed me to delve into theory, policy, and practice, immersing myself in classes that cover a wide range of topics. Additionally, my work as a part-time employee has provided me with valuable hands-on experience in community health outreach, client support services, and the implementation of targeted community-based strategies. This combination of academic knowledge and practical application has equipped me with the skills and insights necessary for a rewarding career in global community-based organizations.

What advice do you have for incoming students who are starting to think about internship and work opportunities?

It is important to be mindful of your limitations and recognize that not everyone can successfully balance full-time work and full-time school. Those who attempt to do so often have to make compromises and sacrifices.

Tell us about your pet!

I brought my cat, Gabby, with me to D.C. to be by my side while I pursue my studies. Gabby is an American Barn Cat that I adopted from a rural farm in Pennsylvania back when I was in the 7th grade. Gabby is now thirteen years old. She is known for her vocal nature and vibrant personality. She has always been a source of comfort and companionship throughout the years. I often jokingly refer to her as having had a rewarding international career of her own. Gabby’s achievements include graduating summa cum laude from the esteemed Meow University. She has also embarked on a remarkable journey as the world’s first feline travel nurse, providing care and comfort to patients around the globe. In addition to her international nursing career, Gabby has also found success as an award-winning author, sharing her unique insights and stories through her written works.

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The #WeAreElliott profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights current students to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at esiagrad@gwu.edu.

The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.