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Brittain Award winner embraces culture of service

As an athlete and a student, Megan Light found what she was looking for at Emory, but her coaches and professors say she has brought as much to the university as it has given to her.

Light, a graduating senior anthropology and human biology major in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, is the 2014 recipient of the university's highest student honor, the Marion Luther Brittain Award. The award is presented each year to a graduate who has demonstrated exemplary service to both the university and the greater community without expectation of recognition.

Candidates are required to demonstrate a strong character, meritorious service and sense of integrity. Light receives the award, which also comes with $5,000, during the central Commencement ceremony May 12.

"I knew I wanted to play softball in college, and athletics has been a huge part of my success and experience at Emory," says Light, who will play with the Emory women's softball team in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III playoffs beginning May 8. Emory's women's softball team has won the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championship each of the four years Light has played. Among many other honors, she earned 2013 UAA Most Valuable Player, 2011 and 2013 All-America honors, and 2013 Academic All-America honors.

In addition to athletics, Light embraced Emory's culture of service, working with Volunteer Emory since her freshman year, volunteering at a homeless shelter, coaching softball for younger students in local leagues, and serving on Emory's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to coordinate educational, community-service, and leadership-development opportunities for all student-athletes.

"My father has been a volunteer at a homeless shelter for more than 25 years and I started going with him when I was 11 or 12. It is something I have always enjoyed," Light says.

'An educator in the gift of giving'

Emory head softball coach Penny Siqueiros wrote in her Brittain award nomination letter that she and others learned much from Light's example as a player and a person.

"A clear example that stands out in my mind is, after grueling practices over a number of weekends, Megan would change out of her practice attire and head to a homeless shelter in Atlanta to serve food to the needy," Siqueiros wrote. "She is an educator in the gift of giving, whether she knows it or not."

Academically, Light discovered a passion for public health at Emory, and traveled to Ghana to do volunteer work at a hospital through the Cross-Cultural Solutions program.

"This was my first exposure to anything besides American medicine. Seeing how people are cared for firsthand in the hospital in Ghana and realizing how much they needed and how much needed to be done in public health there was one of the most important experiences I have had," says Light, who will enroll in the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) in the fall to pursue a master of public health degree in global health.

Light has worked in the Department of Global Health at RSPH with assistant research professor Jorge Vidal doing quantitative DNA analysis for a study on pneumonia in South Africa and at the Global Center for Safe Water, where she worked on a rapid assessment tool to examine fecal contamination for rural or urban low-income areas with director Christine Moe, the Eugene J. Gangarosa Professor of Safe Water and Sanitation.

"I began as a pre-med major, but my introduction to public health through work at the Rollins School of Public Health and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helped me realize that public health was what I wanted to pursue," she says.     

After earning her master's degree, Light hopes to work with the World Health Organization, CARE International or another organization focusing on international community health and community development.

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