Former Miss America has Passion for Helping Students with Diabetes
In our first post with Nicole Johnson, MPH, MA, Miss America 1999, Executive Director, Bringing Science Home at University of South Florida, who has type 1 diabetes, we talked about some of the challenges she faced during her diagnosis, the emotional struggles that came afterwards in her college years, and how she pushed through it all to capture her crown.
Since then, Nicole became a mother, has gone on to get her master’s degree, is pursuing a DrPH and has worked for multiple diabetes organizations. Most recently, she founded Bringing Science Home and Students With Diabetes. Her daughter and her organizations are now what she pours her passion in to and that’s what we focus on today.
Q: Can you give us a little background on Bringing Science Home and how it touches diabetes?
A: It’s a program that I created, so it’s very, very special to me and I have the great privilege of directing and running it at the University of South Florida. The program looks at diabetes first in everything that we do, because that’s my specialty. We look at it through the lens of chronic disease and how we can apply what we’ve learned from different diabetes projects to other health conditions to help even more people. We try to take that mental framework approach and what I focus on is where I saw as gaps in terms of research and programs. Those gaps are in the social ecology – the life of the person with the disease. So, that’s looking at the lifespan and those delicate transitions – high school to college to young adult life is one area that I focus on. And then also in that social ecology type of framework is looking at the rings of people that influence the life of the person with disease.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to start Students With Diabetes or did the idea evolve over time?
A: I knew I wanted to do something for young adults. The concept evolved over time. I asked broadly about the transition from dependence to independence and what young people needed. It was a conversation with parents, caregivers, teens, and young adults. They all came around to, ‘We just want to be around other people who are like us,’ and ‘Why can’t we have camp all the time?’ Diabetes education, how it’s framed now, is great and necessary, but there are other elements that our health care professionals unfortunately tend to bypass because of different pressures on their time, schedules and systems. These young people needed to know about spring break, dating, and details that are common with the college life that come up for kids with diabetes.
Q: How did the first chapter get started and what is the organization doing now?
A: The setup has evolved. It’s based on what the young adults have told me that they wanted. The chapters function like a student organization, if you imagine student government, for instance. Most of them meet once a month, somewhere on or around campus that those young people have voted on, because it’s very much student-led. At those meetings, you have about 20 minutes of real life, modern diabetes education or instruction. Maybe that’s a speaker who just ran a marathon and has diabetes or someone from health services that wants to talk about the counseling center and student insurance. After that, the health professionals leave and allow the young adults to connect and form that bond with each other and have a social activity tied to the event as well.
Q: Can you tell us about the Students with Diabetes National Conference?
A: This summer we’re having our first conference for Students with Diabetes. It’s going to be in Tampa – June 1-3. It’s an opportunity for young adults who are connected to chapters or who are just interested in being with other people like them to get together and to socialize and learn about diabetes topics that are relevant to them. We’re trying to create the feeling of camp and the feeling of Students with Diabetes mixed with some real instruction that will be helpful. The weekend experience also has social events.
The conference is $55 and covers everything – food, housing, entertainment, and the conference. We’re even offering attendees the opportunity to go to Busch Gardens at no additional charge. Anyone who is interested can register through a form on our website by May 25.
Q: Finally, can you tell us what piece of advice you would give to students and young adults with diabetes?
A: Students and young adults with diabetes should realize that they can be themselves and diabetes doesn’t have to take anything away from them. But they also have to work hard to manage their blood sugars in an effort to accomplish whatever it is that they want to accomplish. Organizations like Students with Diabetes are here to help. We want to infuse realistic education into their lives, help them make contacts with other people who can enhance their life experience and their careers and move them closer toward an adulthood of success.
I think it’s admirable that Nicole has used her platform as Miss America as a springboard to a life of helping others. It’s so much more than just an answer during the Q&A portion of the pageant; it’s become her life’s calling and mission. I should also mention that Nicole has a cookbook titled “Nicole Johnson’s Diabetes Recipe Makeovers” that she put out so she could help make the process of healthier eating “happy.”
I would like to thank Nicole for her time and for all the work she is doing to help people living with diabetes, especially young people.
All the best,
Disclosure: Nicole Johnson received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.