Sarah Petit, BSPH ’24, Has Big Plans for Her Future

Class of 2024 SONHS Graduate Spotlight
Sarah Petit, BSPH ’24, Has Big Plans for Her Future

All About the U, Times Two: Graduating seniors Sarah Petit, right, and her twin, Celine
Photo courtesy Sarah Petit

Sarah Petit is a senior at the University of Miami studying public health, with minors in sports administration, biology, and chemistry. In her family’s native Haitian Creole language, her last name means “small,” but Sarah’s impact at the U has been anything but. Earlier this year, she was named the 2024 recipient of the Toppel Career Center’s #Breakthru Award for overcoming barriers. The youngest of seven children, she and her twin, Celine, will graduate from UM together this month.


Where are you from?

I’m from South Florida originally. Both of my parents are Haitian immigrants.


What led you and your twin sister to attend UM together?

We got acceptances from all over the country, but it was in the middle of COVID, so my mom was saying, ‘You don’t want to go too far from home and then they will send you back.’ When we looked at all the factors, we decided it was best to be close to home. UM was just down the road from Broward County, where we live, but I never knew it existed until I started applying for schools. My sister decided to come here first and my mom encouraged us to stay together. Initially, we wanted to split apart, but I loved my decision coming here. It was a good choice.


What was it like to attend UM with your twin, Celine?

We ended up rooming together, so it was nice to have someone I could trust to be with my belongings and just having someone to fall back on. If I didn’t have anybody to go eat dinner with, I usually had my sister. But we spent most of our time apart. She’s pre-PT, I’m premed, so our class loads were different. She started working with the basketball team with their physical therapist and their sports science program, and I started working with the swim and dive team.


Why did you choose your major?

When I was looking at my med school prerequisites, I wanted a major that I would honestly enjoy. Public health spoke to me because it focused on health disparities, and that was something I was passionate about even before I came to UM. That was a great choice. They have a lot of problem-based learning. We apply what we learn to scenarios, and I feel I learn better that way, instead of just taking a comprehensive exam about numbers or plants.


How did you get interested in health disparities?

I spent a lot of time in Haiti. My father used to live there on and off, so I saw the effects of the [2010] earthquake on the population. I was in Haiti the winter break before the earthquake and my father left Haiti just a couple of days before, but I still had family there. I saw the effects of health disparities in my family here in the U.S., too. My grandmother had open heart surgery when I was in elementary school, and I got to see the medical field first-hand, so that’s where I got interested in medicine. I saw how other people in different populations in the hospital had different rates of success in their surgeries, so that jump-started my interest in health disparities.


How has your family supported your academic path?

My parents are really happy. Celine and I are the first to graduate from college. My mom supports us in whatever we want to do that’s right. When I told her I was going to do premed she said, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to finally have a doctor in the family!’ I always wanted to be a doctor, and my family has been really supportive of the fact that I persevered through everything to get to this point. My mom cooks for me all the time and drops food off for me at UM. She knows how stressed out I get over my classes, so if she can take one thing off my plate, she likes to do that. I love her cooking—her cabbage stew with rice and beans has to be my favorite, and it’s healthy!


What experience made the greatest impact on you at UM?

I met my mentor, Dr. Christopher Clarke, my first year here at an earthquake remembrance ceremony for a Haitian club on campus (Planet Kreyol). He was the director of Multicultural Student Affairs at the time, and I didn’t even know MSA was a thing—COVID slowed the process of getting to know things on campus. I loved the people who worked in that MSA office. I still go by, even though Dr. Clarke is no longer the director. I made lots of connections. That’s how I got involved in orientation, where I speak to freshman every year about diversity and being an ally. MSA got me into a lot of public speaking roles, educating people on diversity. Also, they got me to realize exactly who I am.


Who are you?

An advocate. I think that’s the strongest word I can use. I used to think advocates had to be people in power who made big changes, like MLK or Malcolm X even, but MSA taught me that being an advocate is working in your own environment to support or speak for communities that are more underprivileged. They say, “Each one reach one.” So, if I speak to one person, I can reach that person and, in turn, they can reach another person. It’s not like you have to reach the masses like celebrity advocates do. If we do our part reaching one person at a time, we can make a difference.


What was your final public health project?

I’ve volunteered in the past with First Star UM Academy, a foster and adopted kids initiative. I love working with people in foster care, and my practicum is focusing on developing a program for First Star that continues for the over-18 population in extended foster care, to help them with life skills of independent living. I called it “A Foster Grad Bootcamp and Mastering Adulting in Just Three Weeks.” It’s a mixture of workshops and activities. There will be life skills, like learning to cook basic affordable recipes, financial literacy. We’re going to help them get documents, which a lot of people in foster care struggle with. We have some cases in our group where their foster parents burned their documents. Some of those kids don’t even have a state ID, so we’re trying to at least get them the documents you need to do the next steps you have planned in life. It’s a partnership through the UM School of Law.


How did the public health program at SONHS prepare you for your future?

My intro epidemiology and public health classes set the groundwork. But once we started getting into environmental science and health disparities and health in all policies, we started applying what’s going on in the world to specific instances. Dr. [Nicholas] Metheny, for example, taught us about health policies, and what it takes to make a policy. We had to make one about a topic that matters to us, and I did not know so much work goes into it! Some of these proposed policies don’t even get past the first week. Learning all these things has helped me realize exactly how much impact we all have as health providers—and what it takes to make change.


What policy did you create?

My policy is about mental health in traumatic injuries. My brother is an amputee, and I feel like there’s not enough support after hospitalization, so I’m trying to make policies that can support those recovering from amputation after they leave the hospital. This relates to research I presented recently as an Adobe Scholar at UM. My project was essentially a podcast with three different amputees ranging in age from 20 to mid-50s. I talked to them about the care they had before, during, and after their amputation, and they all had different views on how their injury affected them. Seeing the range of how their injuries affect their lives was eye-opening for me. Public health definitely set me up to have these conversations with empathy and have conversations that can help.


What’s next?

My sister is starting physical therapy school this summer at UM, and I’m taking a little break before I go to medical school. I’m just excited for what the future has in store!


This interview was edited for length, style, and clarity.



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