Sarena Hayer, who is in her last year at the Albert Medical School at Brown University, spoke recently about a Rotary Foundation District Scholarship that paid for a year of graduate school at the London School of Economics in 2013-14, where she was a Global Grant Scholar.
“My experiences with Rotary have been so great and I am incredibly thankful to the Palisades club and to [club member] Perry Akins for supporting me through that tremendous opportunity,” she told Circling the News.
Born in the United Kingdom, Hayer moved with her family to Southern California in 1995, when she was three. They moved around a lot when she was young, and she attended a number of elementary and middle schools.
When the family lived in San Marino, Hayer’s mom, Pamela, took ownership of Petit Ami in 2004. This children’s clothing store was located at the corner of Antioch and Swarthmore before moving this past year to Swarthmore, adjacent to Caruso’s Palisades Village. The shop is now called Keetan, after Hayer’s little brother.
Hayer’s mom commuted between San Marino and Pacific Palisades until 2008, when Sarena graduated high school, in order for her daughter to have stability throughout high school without continuing to move.
As soon as she graduated, the family moved to Pacific Palisades and Hayer went to Barnard College, where she studied economics, graduating in 2012.
“I heard about the Rotary Scholarship through a friend I met in India in the summer of 2010,” said Hayer, who was in India on a United States State Department Critical Languages Scholarship. “My friend on that program had studied in Mexico during her high school years through the support of her Rotary Club. Her positive experience with Rotary was what led me to research scholarship opportunities when I applied to the London School of Economics.”
In order to earn the scholarship, she had to be recommended by the Palisades Rotary Club. “We have not recommended everyone we’ve interviewed,” said Akins, “but in Sarena’s case we had no reservations.”
“I passed the first round interview,” Hayer said, noting that the next step was at District level. “It was the most intense interview I’ve had in my adult life. There were eight people interviewing me.”
She won a global grant scholarship, which paid for a year of schooling. Rotary Global grants are for graduate students studying abroad in one of Rotary’s six causes: 1. Promoting peace; 2. Fighting disease; 3. Providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene; 4. Saving mothers and children; 5.Supporting education; and 6. Growing local economies.
Hayer’s choice was mothers/children. “I was very interested in readings on reproductive agency and coercion,” she said. “Especially for vulnerable populations — as well as in writings on experiences of wellbeing and illness in biomedical settings, and the experiences of patients in healthcare settings during pregnancy (vs. non-pregnant care).”
While in London, she worked with the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development, which is the African women-led organization working to end violence against women and girls.
“The best part about my experience in London was the people I met,” Hayer said. “I stayed in a flat on Brick Lane with three roommates, two were from Portugal and the other was from New Zealand. It was great being in such an international place and to hear about different life experiences and perspectives.”
After the year, Hayer said, “I had a choice then to either continue down the road into academia and apply for Ph.D. programs, or to be more of an active participant in those therapeutic relationships. I chose to apply to medical school.”
During her third year of medical school, which is mostly clinical settings, Hayer discovered that she enjoyed surgery and Ob/Gyn. She is currently applying for residency programs, hoping to find a position closer to her family. Her sister Simran, 26, works as a manager at the Fairmont Plaza in Century City, and her brother Keetan is 11.
“I am still interested in Global Health and working with vulnerable populations, so it would be great to work with faculty who are interested in that sort of work as well,” Hayer said. “My Rotary scholarly project has propelled a lot of work in medical school with underserved populations and thinking about how to partner with local nonprofits on these issues.”
Hayer continues to be grateful for the Rotary Grant and spoked to the club in January.
She also praises her mother. “My mom has played a tremendous role in my journey. She is my best friend and is such a figure of support,” Hayer said. “She pushed my sister and me to travel, be curious, and was the original feminist in my family. She also worked very hard after moving to the U.S. to support our education.”