Kaitlin Phelon is the Phi Kappa Phi Medallion undergraduate recipient for the inaugural Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) class. Awarded by the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, Phelon received this accolade for having the highest grade point average of all 2022 BSPH graduates. She also finished her degree in three years and graduated first in her class all during a global pandemic.

Phelon is driven by her passion for outreach and connection and the concrete, real-world experiences she was afforded by majoring in public health. "I enjoyed working for the Virginia Rural Health Association last semester. I like being in the classroom, but I got to write a paper for the National Rural Health Association about disparities in care for LGBTQ+ individuals in rural communities, which ended up getting published. I've seen firsthand how big these issues are in rural Virginia, so one highlight was getting to do real-life, hands-on work."

Phelon was undecided about her major and explored psychology before switching to public health. She favored the hands-on outreach component of the field, especially since it mirrored the work she saw her parents doing. "My mom is a gerontologist, and she works for a nonprofit in Richmond, so I liked a lot of the stuff I was doing because it was similar to things she was doing. I got to work a lot within the community because of COVID; I had three different jobs working at a helpline, vaccine clinics, and handing out masks. I loved the actual work experiences."

Much of Phelon's family lives in rural Virginia, so she wasn't a stranger to the surrounding areas' health disparities. "Growing up, I always visited these middle-of-nowhere places because so much of my family lives there, and I recognized all the disparities, like driving an hour just to get to a hospital. I saw how bad people's health was, and I believe it was just the lack of access."

Phelon is going on to nursing school, where she intends to continue bridging health disparities within communities. Eventually, she imagines she will end up in a more administrative or nonprofit role, combining the skills of her nursing degree with what she learned as an undergraduate in public health.

"Being at Virginia Tech solidified my decision to go to nursing school because of all the exposure I had as a public health major. When I did one of the vaccine clinics at Blacksburg High School, I saw how appreciative the community was.

Kerry Redican, director of undergraduate programs in Public Health, said, "Kaitlin is an outstanding student who sets high standards for herself and strives hard to reach them. As an undergraduate, she has been actively involved in preventing the spread of COVID through education and contact tracing. She goes the "undemanded mile" in everything she does."

Phelon is humble about her successes and attributes them to her family's support. "I'm a mix of both of my parents. When my dad gets a task, he gets it done, and I inherited that quality. I inherited patience from my mom - not rushing things and making sure they are done well -  and her empathy. I also had a lot of help because my sister went to Virginia Tech and could help me get a job on campus, pick classes, and connect with professors. My mom says it takes a village, and I think it took my whole family to get where I am today."

Redican added, "Kaitlin has a heart for service and welcomes opportunities to help people. We are very proud of her and know she will do great things."