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Gabriella Cotton, a rising junior at Xavier majoring in Public Health, recently completed the Lamar Governor’s Fellowship Program. Gabriella and twelve other students from Louisiana colleges were chosen for the program out of hundreds of applicants by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards following a rigorous application process.

August 23, 2021

The Lamar Governor’s Fellowship program is an exclusive program that offers undergraduate students attending Louisiana colleges and universities the opportunity to experience public policy in action, view current affairs of the Louisiana government while learning about its history, and earn academic credit. The bipartisan program is a partnership between Louisiana’s Office of the Governor, Louisiana State University (LSU), Southern University, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, and the Lamar Family. As part of the competitive application process, candidates had to submit a 500-word proposal focussing on a specific policy issue or cabinet position within the Governor’s Office. 

Each student was assigned to work in a cabinet-level agency of the Louisiana Government in Baton Rouge in alignment with their proposal submission or area of study. They also participated in a weekly speaker series and attended trips designed to enhance their experience and understanding of the Louisiana Government. Gabriella worked with the Governor’s Office on Women’s Policy (OWP), which supports Louisianan public policy that “promotes the educational, health, social and economic well-being of women and girls.”

As a Public Health major, Gabriella has a passion for improving the welfare of others. She has a particular passion for helping women in underserved communities. Gabriella focused her proposal on improving maternity care for incarcerated women in Louisiana in which she called attention to the terrible mortality rates facing the state and the country. 

“Placement in the Governor’s Office on Women’s Policy was by far the best way I could have spent my summer,” Gabriella said. “Throughout the two months of the Fellowship, we researched for and assisted with several task forces related to women’s issues.”

For Gabriella, it is important to improve equity for women. She acknowledges the statistic supported issues regarding equal pay to women, especially women of color, being treated differently in hospitals and professions. 

A New Orleans local, Gabriella has always been active in helping and advocating for others. As a young girl she was very active in the community and church-sponsored volunteer programs. Through her church, she found herself volunteering at various organizations around the city, including Boys Town Louisiana and Raintree Children Services. For Gabriella, it was seeing how her small interactions created positive aftereffects that solidified her determination to improve the lives of others. 

“I like seeing smiles on other’s faces,” Gabriella said. 

Gabriella’s dedication to improving the community is also translated into her activities at Xavier. She is a participant of Mobilization at Xavier (MAX) 2.0, the Pre-Law Society, Student Government Association-Department of Communications, and the National Society of Leadership and Success. She is also a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society and the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity. During the recent New Student Orientation week, she served as a Peer Dean. Last week, Gabriella was announced as one of three scholars to receive scholarships from The Links, Incorporated. 

Gabriella claims that her campus activism and experience at Xavier gave her the skills needed for her success during the Fellowship.

“I am thankful to Xavier University for the preparation I received through programs geared toward leadership, commitment to public service, and volunteerism,” Gabriella said.

However, she isn’t the only one in her family to benefit from a Xavier education- her mother, Alice Baptiste, graduated from Xavier in 1981 with a degree in Accounting. 

Growing up, Gabriella participated in Xavier’s K-12 pipeline programs, including the STAR programs. When it came time to select her destination for college, Gabriella’s top choice was Xavier. 

Initially wanting to be a doctor, Gabriella was intending to study biology, but jokingly said that her mother knew better. Her mother filled out the paperwork for Gabriella to be a Public Health major instead, and Gabriella found herself completely engaged in her classes. Deciding to remain a Public Health Major, she continues to explore different avenues for her to improve the world. 

Gabriella admits that she is still trying to find the best path to her goal. Participating in the fellowship program was an invaluable experience that helped her reflect and consider alternative career paths. She is currently considering law school to possibly tie in health and law while helping underserved people be heard.

Though she decided that politics was not in her future, Gabriella praises the valuable skills and experiences she gained during the program. 

“When I received the acceptance call, I was grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity knowing the high qualifications required… This fellowship not only granted me the opportunity to explore a sector of public health impacting women’s lives coupled with the ability to experience government in action; it furthered my goal to make a difference in the lives of others.” 

The fellowship is expected to open applications for the 2022 cohort in February. Aside from the policy proposal, applicants must also submit a resume, a complete transcript, a letter of professional recommendation from a non-familial professor or supervisor, and a personal recommendation from a non-family member. 

After completing the program, the cohort of thirteen students, including Gabriella, recently received a certification marking their completion of the program.

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