JTC 24: Passion, Persistence Produce Phenomenal Payoff

Rebounding after COVID, Dylan Barker aims to improve health care access around the world

A young man wearing a suede coat stands in a park.

This story is part of the 2024 Journey to Commencement series, which celebrates the pinnacle of the academic year by highlighting University of Mississippi students and their outstanding academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

When Dylan Barker arrived as a freshman at the University of Mississippi five years ago, his only priority was to earn his degree. Things were going as planned for the Madison native until a global pandemic interrupted everything.

"The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered my academic career," Barker said. "The transition to remote learning was insanely difficult and led to me taking a year off from school."

Determined to complete what he had begun, Barker returned to Ole Miss and resumed work on his multidisciplinary studies degree with minors in public health, political science and anthropology. The time off doesn't seem to have dampened his ambitions.


Dylan Barker, who graduates in May, has a passion for improving public health. He plans to enroll this summer in the Pharmacy Administration Summer Research Fellowship Program and then pursue a master's degree in public health. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

For starters, Barker was chosen among the inaugural recipients of the Stamps Impact Prize. The competitive award supports and encourages student-initiated research, creative works, community outreach projects, technology development or other experiential learning projects.

"My project is an initiative aimed at improving air quality in local schools through the construction and distribution of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, a cost-effective and easy-to-assemble do-it-yourself air purifier," Barker said. "This project not only seeks to enhance the immediate environment for students and teachers by providing cleaner air, but also has an educational component designed to raise awareness about the importance of air quality and public health."

A key aspect of Barker's project is community empowerment, and he is developing a guide so that other communities can provide their own schools with cleaner air.

Another affirmation that Barker received this year was the Outstanding Undergraduate in Public Health award, presented by the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation Management.

"This recognition means the world to me and it's a reflection of the unwavering support and inspiration I have received from the department's faculty and my peers," Barker said. "I have gotten so much support and advice from the faculty in the public health department. They have become like a family for me."

Allison Ford-Wade, interim chair and professor of health, exercise science and recreation management, and Ruaa Al Juboori, assistant professor of public health, have both been mentors and sources of inspiration throughout Barker's public health studies and research.

"Dylan is dependable, passionate about the field of public health and, overall, a wonderful ambassador not only for the public health program at Ole Miss, but overall, the field as a profession," Ford-Wade said. "He is a student worker for Project SCORE, an after-school program at the Oxford Boys & Girls Club, where we teach students about public health and other STEM-related fields."

Barker is the type of student everyone wants recruiting potential students, Ford-Wade said.


Dylan Barker shows off one of his Corsi-Rosenthal air purifiers at Oxford High School. Submitted photo

"He has an infectious personality, is well liked by fellow students and willing to go the extra mile," she said. "Overall, he's someone that we want in our program."

Barker said he chose to enroll at Ole Miss because of the opportunities for research and career development, particularly in the fields that align with his interests and career aspirations.

"I selected the multidisciplinary studies major because it offers a broad and flexible educational foundation," he said. "This major empowered me to forge my own path and explore various disciplines that contribute to understanding multicultural perspectives, international relations and global governance, all of which are vital for addressing global public health issues."

Barker credited his mother, Monica Barker, as his biggest motivator, inspiration and role model. Barker has two siblings: a twin, Austin, and an older brother, Alex.

"My mom earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Mississippi in 2009, all while raising us," Barker said. "She worked as a wound care nurse at UMMC throughout my childhood. Now, she works for Dignity Health as the director of employee health services in the California division, where she oversees the department of employee health and workers compensation in 13 northern California hospitals."

"She inspired me to pursue an academic path in which I can solve issues related to the disparities in access to health care and social services within our state."


Dylan Barker (front, in red) gives an introduction on the importance of clean indoor air to Oxford High School students. Submitted photo

Barker said he is also deeply thankful for the steadfast support of his father, Michael Barker, and stepmother, Amelia Barker.

"Their unwavering encouragement has been pivotal as I navigated the complexities of higher education during COVID and pursued my passion in public health," he said. "The support and resources they provided throughout my college journey."

After graduation in May, Barker has accepted a position in the UM Pharmacy Administration Summer Research Fellowship Program. After summer ends, Barker plans to stay in Oxford to begin his graduate studies in public health.

He hopes to specialize in biostatistics, epidemiology and health outcomes research, with a goal of completing his master's degree by 2026. Ultimately, he hopes to help improve access to health care and enhance health conditions for people in conflict-affected areas around the world.

He also envisions himself engaging in academic research as well as teaching, sharing his knowledge and passion with future public health professionals.

"As Mahatma Gandhi said, 'In a gentle way, you can shake the world,'" Barker said. "In my journey, both personal and academic, I've always believed in the profound power of gentle, yet determined, efforts to foster change.

"This quote deeply resonates with my philosophy that significant, lasting change doesn't require grand gestures but rather, the consistent, mindful efforts of individuals committed to making a difference."

See more photos from Dylan's Journey to Commencement


Edwin B. Smith



April 24, 2024


Dylan Barker

A young man poses for an outdoor photo.

Dylan Barker is among the students who will receive their degrees at the University of Mississippi's 2024 Commencement ceremonies, set for May 8-12. Submitted photo

Several young men unload air filters from the back of a school bus.

Oxford High School students help unload Corsi-Rosenthal air purifiers for the school. Ole Miss student Dylan Barker built a number of the DIY units for the school. Submitted photo