The University of Iowa

UI Senior Created Her Own Major in Latino Health Studies

September 24th, 2009

By Matt Schommer, The Daily Iowan

Thousands of UI students can struggle when trying to pick out a major. That includes senior Abby Milloy, who felt that there might be something missing from the UI’s. So she created her own.

As Milloy sat through her chemistry and biology classes during her freshman year, she realized that the things she was learning weren’t going to help her connect with people.

“I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do and kind of determined that maybe my strengths were more in communications and connecting with people,” she said.

That’s just one of the many reasons the bilingual senior from West Des Moines decided to start her own major — Latino health advocacy.

“I just happened to stumble upon this one webpage that told about how you can create a major at the UI,” Milloy said.

By combining her love of the Latino culture with her desire to help those in need, she was able to create the perfect major, something some students may be tentative to attempt.

“I’m proud of her for doing that,” said her father, Milt Milloy. “She has the ability to relate to people and therefore lead them. I admire that she wasn’t afraid to stand up and do what she wants.”

Abby Milloy thought the major was the best decision she’s made.

“I’ve always been interested in Spanish,” she said. “It’s fascinating. And I like the idea of being involved in health because it gives you instant gratification. You can see how you’re helping someone.”

And help she did.

She spent a semester in Merida, Mexico, working for a company called Brazos Abiertos — which, she said, translates as Open Arms. She worked as an educational director, helping to teach the locals about HIV/AIDS — an eye-opening experience, she said.

“You’d be amazed at the lack of education,” she said. “Not only about things like how to put on a condom but how someone even gets HIV/AIDS.”

Going away for a semester was tough at first for her longtime friend, senior Lauren Wenzel.

“We’ve been friends since first grade,” Wenzel said. “But when she went away, we talked on Skype and stayed in touch. I’m definitely a person who understands that she is going to do what she wants to do with her life. I know she would be just as understanding for me.”

Milloy’s experience in Mexico encouraged her to take up an internship in Des Moines at Proteus, an Iowa-based not-for-profit corporation providing a variety of services for low-income people — primarily farm workers. She worked as a migrant health aide and performed such basic lab duties as hemoglobin and cholesterol tests, translated, and took medical histories from patients.

“That was a very rewarding experience because finally, I felt like what I was learning was really being applied,” Milloy said. “I could see the people who needed the help, and I was in a position to finally help them. I loved every minute of it.”

She hopes that her time and personalized major at the UI help her reach her ultimate goal, working for the Pan American Health Organization. The organization is in charge of the public-health measures for South and North America.

Although, she admits she is a long way from getting there.

“There’s probably 20 years of experience in the public-health field and a master’s degree in public health that are preventing me from being eligible from doing work with them,” Milloy said with a smile. “But I’m flexible and willing to go where I see there’s a need.”