Senior Sarah Sutter to Support Community Development after COVID-19 Highlights Health Disparities

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

Sarah Sutter headshot

Sarah Sutter, graduating senior in Human Development and Family Science.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things for everyone. For Sarah Sutter, graduating senior in Human Development and Family Science at Auburn University, it opened her eyes to the need to bring more holistic health care to underserved communities.

Sutter was drawn to HDFS as a pre-health student because of the various studies encapsulated in the program. The HDFS curriculum covers various subjects that relate to healthy development from birth to the end of the lifespan.

“I knew that I wanted to help people and I knew that I wanted to have a different perspective while still enjoying my major,” Sutter said. “HDFS takes a more holistic approach to health and well-being. It’s biology, psychology, sociology, all wrapped into one major, which was appealing as a pre-med student. And I loved the College of Human Sciences. We’re a family within the Auburn family.”

To learn more about global health, Sutter spent the summer of 2019 at the Universidad of Salamanca in Spain. While she learned a lot about the intersection of health and technology, she also earned a Spanish minor, immersed herself in a different culture, and said she left the program more independent and confident in her abilities.

Last semester, Sutter also completed the Health Equity Science Certificate curriculum through the College of Human Sciences. The course of study emphasizes identifying health disparities between groups and social pressures’ effects on disease risk. The certificate aims to equip students with knowledge they can translate into policy or community intervention.

After seeing the health disparities surrounding quality COVID-19 care, Sutter began to see human development and family science’s place in the healthcare system in a new light.

“Things have changed for me since COVID. HDFS gives a different perspective on the way we live. Having a different view of how we develop in this world, through a biopsychosocial perspective, is fascinating and important,” Sutter said. “Health equity science is, for me, the means to make as much of a positive impact as I can within underserved communities. During the pandemic, I saw the need for people to become more aware of health disparities and work to improve overall health outcomes.”

On campus, Sutter approached extracurricular involvement with the same community-minded approach. She’s served as a student mentor in the Student Association for Mentoring, a camp counselor for Camp HOPE America, a peer instructor for the Exploratory Advising Center, and director of recruitment and retention for her sorority, Delta Gamma.

Sutter also mentored children in Lee County through Project Uplift, an Auburn organization that pairs students with local children to develop healthy mentor relationships. In that role, she saw her studies play out and was able to help support local families by volunteering.

In the middle of 2020, she co-founded the HDFS Professionals Club with fellow HDFS senior Haley Hawkins. It’s the first HDFS-specific professional development student organization in the College of Human Sciences, and though the club’s launch was virtual, Sutter said it was more important than ever to create a community, especially for new students.

“In my pre-health clubs, I saw this sense of engagement from the students and with HDFS, you have that, but to a lesser degree because there wasn’t a dedicated club for it. So, we saw a need for a club. We created it for a sense of community, academic support, and networking opportunities,” Sutter said. “Especially for freshmen in HDFS, we got them on board because the majority of their classes were on Zoom and they weren’t meeting people on campus. It’s a great resource to build connections, and post-COVID, I hope to see it take off even more.”

Sutter will graduate in August after completing her required HDFS internship this summer with Outreach International, a nonprofit that supports community-led development by placing Human Development facilitators in underserved communities around the world and connecting those communities with the resources they need to implement lasting solutions to chronic poverty-related issues.

Sutter will spend the next few months remotely assisting the organization’s Directors of Research and Advocacy and Field Research, and crafting a training curriculum for field staff assigned to communities in the Philippines.

As Sutter moves into applied practice of all she’s learned at Auburn, her advice to new students is to get involved and enjoy the journey.

“Enjoy every single moment. Time flies,” Sutter said. “Never stop chasing after what you are passionate about and seize every single opportunity available to you during your time here at Auburn. Discover new perspectives, because life has so much to offer if you stay open-minded, especially during college. With an HDFS degree, there are so many things you can do, so find what you enjoy and let it lead you to your passions and interests.”

Get more information on the Human Development and Family Science program in the College of Human Sciences at Auburn University. For more information on the Health Equity Science certificate, here.