PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A few years ago, with the opioid epidemic raging in his hometown of Toronto and elsewhere across North America, Abdullah Shihipar decided he wanted to find a way to confront the crisis. So he applied to a master’s program at Brown University’s School of Public Health to study strategies for combating the negative effects of drug use.
Two years later — with the opioid epidemic continuing to take a toll and in the midst of a decidedly different public health crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic — Shihipar is set to earn his degree.
In an address to be delivered at the Brown Graduate School’s Virtual Degree Conferral ceremony on Sunday, May 24, he’ll remind his fellow graduates that crises like these underscore the need for people to use their education to make a positive difference for others.
“Brown is an elite institution that grants you access to certain spaces, access to power,” Shihipar said. “With that access comes responsibility. For me, the pandemic makes it even more clear that with these degrees and this knowledge, we should be trying not only to advance ourselves, but also to advance society.”
Shihipar says that engaging with the people and challenges around him was the hallmark of his experience at Brown. While he had great professors and took interesting classes, the most impactful part of his experience came outside the classroom, working in the lab and in the field. Much of that work was with Brandon Marshall, an associate professor of epidemiology whose research focuses on interventions that improve the health of people who use drugs. Working with Marshall, Shihipar got a chance to do in-person interviews with individuals impacted by drug use disorders in pursuit of strategies that might improve their health.
“I feel like getting firsthand experience and knowledge from people who are having that experience was very powerful and left an impression on me,” he said. “It’s one thing to read about it in papers; it’s another thing to hear what people who are actually going through it have to say.”