Taylor Allen has never shied away from moving outside of her comfort zone. In fact, she embraces all opportunities to do just that. “There is so much value in experiencing different things. I have grown to be comfortable with being uncomfortable," said Allen, a senior in University Honors majoring in human nutrition, foods and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and minoring in 21st century studies.

She credits Virginia Tech Summer Academy, a six-week program for incoming freshman and transfer students, as a formative experience. A cornerstone of the program is specialized credit-bearing tracks featuring a small-class setting. The human nutrition, foods, and exercise track shaped her academic goals and cemented her passion for studying health.

“As a senior, I can't imagine my Virginia Tech experience without Summer Academy,” Allen said. “It planned the trajectory of my college career and launched me forward to take advantage of unbelievable experiences, incredible travel ventures, and meaningful community building.”

Having gained much from Summer Academy, Allen wanted to give back to the next group of rising freshman by serving as peer mentor the summer before her sophomore year. Another advantage was spending the summer in Blacksburg which she described as “amazing.”  While this experience landed her away from her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, Virginia Tech became "her home away from home."

The following summer, Allen found her home outside of the country. Through her 21st century studies minor, Allen had the opportunity to discover her niche for cultural immersion and research as she traveled to Morocco, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.  This transdisciplinary program was life-changing for Allen. "There is nothing like traveling around the world and being immersed in culture, interacting with the natives, and learning and speaking the languages,"  she said.

The world traveling did not stop that summer. Before her senior year, Allen was one of four undergraduates in the country to receive the position of Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training program scholar in South Africa. This internship through University of Virginia’s Center for Global Health allowed Allen to conduct a research project focusing on the management of hypertension and diabetes in South Africa.  “This experience further confirmed my love for global health and desire to work with populations who are affected by health disparities,” Allen said.

Taylor Allen leads a discussion on healthy eating during an internship in South Africa.
Taylor Allen leads a discussion in promoting healthy eating during her internship in South Africa.

Allen also works to spread the public health message to the university community as a peer educator and body project coordinator for the Health Education and Awareness Team, also known as HEAT, through Hokie Wellness. She said she is extremely thankful for the role as it  ignited her initial passion for public health. A member since sophomore year, Allen and a team of students facilitate peer-to-peer workshops on topics ranging from nutrition, sleep, and skin cancer prevention.  Her work with the the Body Project workshop opposes the thin ideal and encourages positive body image. 

Allen is also very passionate about her work with IMPACT (Initiating and Motivating a Positive Alcohol Culture Together) as a peer education and prevention team member.

While Allen strives to support the mental and physical health of her peers, she strongly values spiritual health as well, citing her membership and leadership with Chi Alpha Campus Ministry as transformational. "I put God first in everything I do, and having a community that supports my love for him and others has helped my faith grow in incredible ways." She also embraces the opportunity to uphold Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) as a team captain for the Virginia Tech Relay for Life and a peer academic coach through the Student Success Center.

Always embracing an adventure abroad, Allen will pursue a master of science in global health at Duke Kunshan University located in Kunshan, Jiangsu province, China this fall. She said she is excited to be situated in this epicenter, just less than an hour west of Shanghai,  to study global health in an international setting. "I am ready to be challenged and am beyond excited for any upcoming opportunity in China, for it will further cultivate my passion for global health, culture, and diversity," Allen said.  

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