Scholar advocates for health care employees, looks to destigmatize mental health

Hannah Ross is the vice president of the Lift the Mask Club at Penn State, which seeks to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Credit: Jeff Rice / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State student Hannah Ross has long had a desire to be there for others, particularly those who have health issues.

The Schreyer Honors Scholar and health policy and administration major also wants to help make sure that health care professionals have the support they need to provide the best possible care for others.

“From the perspective of a degree of administration or policy in health care, it really appealed to me to be able to advocate for the people who are giving that care and make sure that they are able to have the tools to improve the care that they’re giving,” Ross said.

In September, Ross, of Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania, received an Emerging Professional Award from the Health Policy and Administration’s Affiliated Program Group. The award is based on academic grades, internship evaluations and faculty recommendations.

“It’s wonderful, especially because now I’ve networked with a lot of the people in the program group,” she said, “and I know who they know, and for them to recognize me was just very humbling.”

This spring, she was the recipient of the 2019 Jennifer S. Cwynar Community Achievement Award and the 2019 Edith Pitt Chace Award.

Ross also helped launch the Lift the Mask Club at Penn State, which is dedicated to reducing the stigmas around mental health. Ross, the club's vice president, and her friend and Penn State health administration graduate student Nick Corona, were inspired by a documentary called “Lift the Mask” made by the Quell Foundation, an organization founded by Penn State alumnus Kevin Lynch that strives to reduce the number of suicides, overdoses and incarcerations of people with mental health illness. The Lift the Mask Club hosted a viewing of the same documentary on campus in early October.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what mental illness really is, and I think the lack of conversation lends itself to unfair stereotypes and fear,” Ross said. “And it’s very important for us to talk about those issues and normalize that conversation so that people feel as though they don’t have to be ashamed to ask for the help that they need.”

College of Health and Human Development alumnus Joseph Thear Jr., the principal consultant for the Center for Transforming Health at The MITRE Corp., has mentored Ross through the College of Health and Human Development’s Alumni Mentoring Program. He recalled watching Ross speak to one of his colleagues about the social aspect of health care and how to treat health care employees as well as patients.

“She really adapted that as her own internal mantra,” Thear said. “This is what’s going to give her satisfaction in her career, to always think that at the heart of what we’re trying to solve or better is always at the heart of the patient.”

Ross is considering a variety of career options after she graduates this May with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health policy and administration through the integrated undergraduate/graduate program. She has explored options in risk and compliance consulting and has also thought about attending law school. Ultimately, she wants to make a difference in health care.

“Where I see myself really long term is in legislation,” she said. “I’d like to make an impact there. But I think it’s very important that anyone who is making legislation has experience on the front lines in administration or consulting and being in those hospitals, those long-term care facilities, before they’re making legislation that impacts those facilities.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses. They represent the top 2% of students at Penn State who excel academically and lead on campus.

Last Updated November 04, 2019