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Enrich and Contribute

Lessons in Leadership

During his internship with the US Surgeon General's office, Joseph Sherman gained valuable leadership experience and saw first-hand how his Honors experiences translate to real world application. Like many students though, his Honors journey began long before his internship, and even before he came to BYU. Recently, Joseph told us that his parents have been fundamental in shaping his Honors Program experience. His father graduated with Honors, and has spoken to him often about how his experience in the Honors Program helped him become a better student and a better professional lawyer. Joseph noted that because his father is his hero, he has always wanted to follow his example. His mother has also played a key role in his preparation for the Honors Program; she coined the phrase, "enrich and contribute." Joseph says that he thinks this phrase captures what he really loves about the Honors Experience.

Joseph explains, “The lectures are less about being spoon-fed information, and are more about active discussion. I try to enrich and contribute to our class discussions, and I love listening to my peers. They have amazing insights from each of their fields of study that have helped enrich and broaden the way I think. I really look forward to being in class during the week. I also love the professors I've had. They are all outstanding representatives of their specialties and create environments where students enrich one another and contribute in our class discussions. The Savior is the greatest teacher of all-- in response to questions asked of Him, He would often ask a question in return, rather than give His audience the correct answer. I find that Honors professors have a beautiful approach by following this pattern, which truly helps students learn for themselves.”

Outside of his Honors classes, Joseph saw firsthand the power of effective teachers and leaders when he interned at the Office of the United States Surgeon General. This office employs “America’s Doctor,” a medical and public health professional who campaigns across the nation and provides a critical voice to address and tackle some of the nation’s greatest public health challenges.

Joseph personally supported Dr. Jerome Adams, the former United States Surgeon General, and his senior leadership team with a variety of tasks, which included campaign planning, staffing the Surgeon General at speaking and meeting engagements, liaising with federal and non-federal partners in strategic planning to improve community health, and engaging in translational research. Joseph’s research responsibilities also included reviewing and interpreting scientific information and convening scientific subject matter experts in areas such as substance misuse and addiction, maternal mortality, and other public health matters.

During his first day as an intern, Joseph met Dr. Adams, and promptly joined him in a meeting of representatives from the FDA to discuss ways in which e-cigarette usage could be limited among youth. As the designers of e-cigarettes, vaping companies have misinformed youth of the real dangers of its products. As a result, many young people do not understand the risks of e-cigarettes. Vaping companies have also preyed on youth by releasing flavors like bubble gum and cotton candy in their products.

That very first day, Joseph had a chance to “enrich and contribute” to the conversation. He relayed his first day experience this way:
“The meeting was almost over, when suddenly Dr. Adams turned to me and said, ‘Joe, why don’t you wrap up the meeting with your final thoughts?’ I couldn’t believe it. Despite the tachycardia I abruptly experienced from the room full of eyes that turned to me, I offered my best thought. Throughout the meeting, representatives from the FDA had presented a series of television commercials that warned youth about the dangers of e-cigarette use. The FDA also discussed the importance of school pep rallies and other programs that could be implemented to help limit e-cigarette use. All of these efforts were truly wonderful, but as I thought of my upbringing, I couldn’t recall a specific pep-rally against drug use at my middle school, nor a deterring television commercial against drug use. However, I could recall the words of my mother and father in the passenger seat of our car or at the kitchen table, where I was taught and warned about the dangers of drug use at a young age. More than commercials and public school programs, the feelings of love and guidance received from my parents truly penetrated my heart and left me with a commitment to avoid substances like e-cigarettes. So why hadn’t we discussed ways to involve parents in the battle against e-cigarettes? Although my heart raced, I knew what to say. ‘We’ve talked a lot about targeting youth through the media and through school programs,’ I said, ‘but why aren’t we targeting parents? They are equally important in this fight and the most vital resource to help youth. When I think back to my own life, my parents were there to teach me and protect me from these kinds of dangers.’ The room fell silent for several moments. The Surgeon General thanked me for my comments, and the meeting concluded. In a subsequent tweet, Dr. Adams stated the following: ‘An important part of addressing misinformation is talking to our children and youth. As a dad, I make a point to regularly talk to my kids about the issues they face – but also to listen to them. It’s important they know the lines of communication are always open (2).’”

Joseph said his internship taught him valuable lessons about the nature of true leadership. By asking for Joseph’s voice on his first day, Dr. Adams demonstrated firsthand that leadership is having the meekness to listen to every voice in the room -- particularly those who may not appear to have any worthwhile insight. Joseph learned that everyone should be expected to contribute and share their best insights, because leadership is less about one person being in the spotlight and more about creating and inspiring teamwork. Dr. Adams welcomed Joseph as a valued member of their team from the beginning, allowing him to take an active part in their work, rather than passively watching from the sidelines. This taught him that a great leader is also a great teammate and helps all become contributors and feel valued and needed. Although he was still an undergraduate student, he was expected to enrich each meeting he attended and offer his best perspectives, which proved to him that effective leaders also have both high expectations and a great amount of care for those they lead. Joseph said he felt tremendous unity and friendship with all who worked at the Office of the Surgeon General, and felt like he was saying goodbye to dear friends on his last day of work. In Joseph’s words, “The entire experience was truly a gift.”

As an aspiring physician, Joseph’s experiences have also helped him become better equipped to respond to public health challenges occurring both now and in the future. Public health challenges, as we have seen recently with COVID-19, require the united effort of multiple disciplines. Dr. Adams helped instill in him a commitment to work across multiple disciplines, as well as a desire and commitment to serve vulnerable communities in his future profession. Joseph noted, “these lessons of incorporation, unexpected connections [across disciplines], and team-work have been integral in my leadership development.

For those interested in embarking on a similar endeavor, Joseph assures that he did not have any special connections to the Surgeon General or to the Department of Health and Human Services when embarking on this internship. It was simply his interest in the history and role of the Surgeon General that motivated him to choose this experience. He explains, “I began my search for this opportunity by typing: ‘Internships with the Surgeon General’ in the google search bar. I discovered an institute called ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) that offered this internship. I filled out an application and in the summer of 2018 interviewed with the Surgeon General's Senior staff. I was not able to intern that year but I tried again and I was able to secure the internship my second try around in 2019. This taught me that we should be ambitious and persistent in our goals. We should aim high. If we don't fail every now and then, we may not be stretching ourselves enough.”

Joseph is currently completing his Honors Thesis, which he indicated is his favorite part of the Honors experience. He says, “A thesis captures the idea that students are expected to ‘enrich and contribute,’ to the world around them, and falls in line with the university's direction to ‘Enter to learn, go forth to serve.’ I am especially inspired by the professors with whom I began my thesis. They have encouraged me to not see my thesis in public health as the finish line, but the starting line and a foundation upon which I can build on for future research throughout my profession.”

Joseph Sherman is a Physiology and Developmental Biology Major from Mesa, Arizona. He is the second of four boys in his family, and all are lifelong BYU fans that love to surf, ski, play tennis and travel together. He is also a sedulous student-- he was endorsed by Phi-Eta Sigma Honor Society for ranking in the top 20% of his class as a freshman, and is a four-time recipient of tuition scholarships awarded to him by BYU for high academic achievement. Joseph had the privilege of serving a full-time mission in Santiago, Chile in which he spent over six months serving on Easter Island, a small island over 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. Joseph loves the gospel and the spirit of service it brings into his life. He credits his amazing parents for teaching him and his brothers to keep the gospel at the center of their lives.