Rutgers-Newark’s strong relationship with the city of Newark and its residents has given graduate Assitan Drame a head start on her goal to improve community health.

Drame, who was raised in Newark, received her master’s at the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) as a member of the Class of 2023. The chance to observe organizations across the city work with healthcare institutions during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis taught her lessons she couldn’t have learned anywhere else, she said.

“We are in the center of Newark and have those close connections,’’ says Drame. “Learning from reading books and writing papers, that’s beneficial. But getting real-life experience and hearing from those who are immersed in the field is different.”

In 2020, Drame worked with professor Diane Hill, co-director of RU-N’s Office for Community Partnerships and the Center for Health Equity & Community Engagement, on a campaign to increase COVID-19 testing. She learned how to closely collaborate with community groups to build trust at a time when fear and misinformation were rampant.

“The virus was at its peak and my community was being greatly affected. A lot of it was a lack of information and lack of access. Being able to help give residents access was very important to me,’’ said Drame, who has been a graduate project coordinator and teaching assistant with the health equity center.  

She has also worked as a coordinator for Screen NJ, a public health effort established to screen Black and Latinx seniors in Union and Essex Counties for colorectal and lung cancer. 

The daughter of Malian immigrants and a first-generation college student, Drame attended Newark’s public schools and from 7th to 12th grade, participated in the Rutgers Future Scholars program. In high school, she was able to take college-level courses and live on campus before enrolling at RU-N.

“Rutgers-Newark was always my number one choice,’’ she says. “I wanted to stay in my city and stay close to home. It’s always been a dream school for me. I knew it was where I wanted to go.’’

Drame received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Rutgers-Newark’s School of Arts and Sciences-Newark and decided to pursue a career in healthcare management, with a special interest in helping underserved patients. That’s why she chose the School of Public Affairs and Administration.

“When you learn how to build community relationships, you can make a difference,’’ she said. “With those connections, you can reach more people.’’ 

The diversity of RU-N has allowed Drame to make friends from many different backgrounds and network across a wide professional spectrum. “I’ve met people who’ve opened doors for me,’’ said Drame. “And they’ve introduced me to different people. Without this university, I wouldn’t have had that.’’