Monica Dey '11

After graduating from FRA, I went to Stanford University to study Human Biology—an interdisciplinary major combining both biology and social sciences. At the time, I thought I would pursue medicine, so I dutifully took all of my required pre-med courses. But I somehow found myself more drawn to courses on democracy, international development, and community-based research—topics that were not at all directly related to the “hard” sciences.

At the same time, I knew I loved traveling, learning new languages, and living abroad, so after my sophomore year of college, I took a research trip to Madagascar and Uganda to study maternal health. While I was there, I was compelled by the work and questions that arose from that experience, and I realized this was the kind of work I was interested in.

Even though I thought I wanted to be a doctor, I decided to take a different path to focus on international development. Public health has always been a big interest of mine, and it became the way to combine my love for health, travel, and studying languages.

After I graduated college, I immediately moved to Togo. (in West Africa) for about a year to work on a pediatric HIV program. I then moved back to the United States, where I started working for a foundation that funds community-based organizations working on children’s rights and education in East Africa. As part of this job, I was able to live and work in San Francisco, Nairobi, and then back in Nashville for a few months.

Recently, I moved back to Nairobi to start working as theGlobal Partnerships Manager for a start-up company called Penda (“love” in Kiswahili) Health. Penda Health is a for-profit organization with a social mission, aiming to deliver low-cost, trustworthy healthcare to low-income families all over Nairobi, and eventually all over Kenya. What the company does is fundamentally important—delivering high-quality, affordable healthcare to people who need it. It’s not complicated: everyone needs access to good healthcare.

In this start-up environment, I find myself getting to work on anything that interests me, from raising grant and investment capital, to public relations and communications, to community outreach. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been leading all of our most urgent fundraising efforts, as well as spearheading our digital media and community engagement work.

Typically, I work on raising capital that supports our innovation work, like our training programs for medical staff, proactive outreach to patients, or telemedicine hotline for virtual consultations. What’s exciting to me is getting to design and pitch programs to donors that reflect exactly what I studied in college. It’s a new kind of “dream” job in that way. I’m getting to pursue my passion, even if it wasn’t what I initially thought it would be.

Mr. Climer was one of the biggest influences during my FRA experience. Without a doubt, he is still one of the most incredible teachers that I have ever had. I have always admired his dedication to teaching his students not only to be precise in learning the rules of French, but also to love the. beauty of the language through literature.

I found the rigor of his classes thrilling; there was always something new to explore. While I loved math and science, I found special joy in digging through works of literature, trying to learn new words, and investigate the deeper meanings behind those words. Mr. Climer was amazing at instigating those types of discussions and pushing us to dig deeper. His.classes made me love learning, and love learning French, because the way he taught made me feel like I was opening new doors for myself. 

That wasn’t something I let go of in college either. I minored in French and initially chose Madagascar for my first research trip because it is a French-speaking country. The grant to support the trip came from the Stanford French department, so all my interests—in French, health, and traveling—happened to come together in an amazing way. I never expected that, and it has taught me that you never know which direction your life is going to go.

While unsurprising, it was Mr. Climer’s ability to help me love learning languages and understand different cultures that shifted my entire career path. I have always loved the sciences and health, but the idea of experiencing life abroad and learning new languages—that was definitely inspired by him.

When I graduated from FRA, I was set on going to medical school and becoming a doctor. Nothing in my path was going to stop me. But by taking a risk to travel and understand a different part of the world, my career path completely shifted. When you’re in school, you don’t truly realize how big your world is; only when you leave do you realize there are so many things you don’t know and should explore.

Academics were the core part of my experience at FRA, andI will always be grateful to FRA for allowing me to take such a rigorous course load that prepared me for life in college. Through the AP classes and teachers I was exposed to, I could take on challenging college classes, and I always felt prepared. It was hard work, of course, but I had the tools to navigate the university well.

The small class sizes at FRA were also beneficial for me. I was able to know my teachers well and get individual help and feedback. I always felt like my teachers had the time and willingness to invest in making me a better student.

Having the individual attention and investment from teachers was an incredible way to start life from such a young age. It was an environment I felt comfortable in, and I always knew I had a community to count on.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to not put so much pressure on having it all figured out—as easy as that is to say now—because things can easily change in an instant. Of course, it’s important to work hard at whatever you have committed your time to doing, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re not first in your class. Life works out in ways that you don’t expect, and it’s even more important to be open to that uncertainty.