You’re six months pregnant, and you get the news that the father of your unborn child has been shot and killed while visiting his family in a town two hours away. It could be your undoing, or you could work through your grief and eventually move on with your life to do something positive in spite of the tragedy.
That’s what happened to Sara Loughrige in February 2005.
“All you can do is try to keep going,” Loughrige said. “The immediate feeling is that you don’t want to do anything—you get frozen in grief.”
Brian was only 22 when he was killed—the day before his 23rd birthday. The crime remains unsolved. “It rattled our family to the core,” Loughrige said. “It took some time to regroup and figure out a way to do something meaningful. I wanted to prevent situations like this from happening to others.”
As Loughrige began exploring possible steps, she came across Michigan State University’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program.
“I had never heard of public health before that,” said Loughrige, who had earned a B.A. degree in interdisciplinary studies from Western Michigan University in 2008. “Pursuing a degree in public health clicked for me. I began to understand that there was a way to work in that field and be able to provide programming as a preventive measure—to bolster communities and give them the tools to maintain healthy and productive lives.”
She finished her MPH degree in 2012, and with the help of family, friends, private donors, and community foundations—including the Marshall Community Foundation and the Battle Creek Community Foundation—she established a youth violence prevention program called The Brian Project.
Founded as a summer camp and after-school program for ages 8 to 14, the Brian Project served up to 80 youngsters each year. They learned about bystander intervention, conflict resolution, and how to utilize coping skills (such as meditation, yoga, art, and writing) when angry or having trouble with their peers.
“My thesis at MSU was on gun violence. I was able to take a lot of what I studied and learned and put it into practice at the camps,” Loughrige said. “The things these kids learned was close to my heart. I know we were making an impact.” She noted that one of the summer-camp teens went on to start an anti-bullying group at her school.
“Out of the pain that we lived through, we were able to do something good,” she said about the free program, which ran for several years.
Loughrige is currently an Angel Technician at MPHI, collaborating with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and the Michigan State Police to secure drug and alcohol rehabilitation services for individuals seeking treatment. During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, she shifted her talents to serve as a COVID investigator.
“My master’s degree in public health allows me to utilize my skills in so many ways,” said Loughrige, who noted that the online courses made it easy for her as a mom of a newborn to complete her degree. “Through MSU’s MPH program, I was able to make so many connections,” she said. “A network can help you navigate this vast field of public health, and that’s so important.
“My MPH degree was a new chapter of my journey,” she added.
And about that unborn baby at the beginning of this story—Loughrige describes her son Dante, now 16, as an “incredible kid.” She says he’s expressing an interest in the field of criminal psychology. “His dad would be so proud.”
September 9, 2021