Raised by his grandparents in the small town of Oneida, Tennessee, Preston Harness moved past the many obstacles placed before him in order to pursue his dream of helping others through a career in health care management.

While currently enrolled in the Masters of Public Health-Health Service Management Policy program, he is also involved in a myriad of other campus leadership positions, including resident director for the ETSU Department of Housing and Residence Life and advisor for Carter Stone Powell Hall Council.

“I grew up in a poverty stricken county that consistently had the highest unemployment rates in all of Tennessee, and was the first person to attend a four-year university in my family as well as attend graduate school,” Harness said. “I had faced direct adversity from struggling with issues in my home life as well as school.”

On top of dealing with the harsh realities of an impoverished area, he also experienced the negative side of a very conservative community culture that led to intolerance and often times blatant discrimination due to his sexual orientation.

Despite the circumstances he was born into, he still believes that everyone has the same opportunity to succeed as long as you work hard and remain positive, a value instilled in him by his grandparents.

“As a kid, I faced social issues that I know now would be considered anti-gay bias hate crimes,” Harness said. “Although it has been a struggle for me to fit in as a person when I was younger, ETSU has given me the confidence and pride that has transformed me into the man that I am today. Learning from so many great mentors and leaders in the College of Public Health has made me realize that my actions can impact society in a positive manner.”

All of the hardships that he endured while growing up has influenced him to pursue opportunities to advocate and represent those who are underprivileged.

“Facing so much adversity as a child really pushed me to do well in my life this far,” Harness said. “I graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Public Health in only three years and I am currently enrolled in the Masters of Public Health-Health Service Management Policy program. I have really sought opportunities to learn about the different forms of privilege and try to advance rights of undeserved people in my everyday life.”

In his efforts to promote diversity and equality, he has discovered specific areas of interest along with potential career fields where he can continue to make a positive impact on others.

“I knew that I wanted to do health care or some sort of social science, but I found out quickly that public health was my area that I loved the most,” Harness said. “I have found a love of wanting to advance the health of women and children mostly as well as advancing rights for minorities and the LGBT community. I worked in a child advocacy center one summer, the Children’s Center of the Cumberland’s, back in Oneida and I really got to make a difference in these children’s lives. I was able to show them that I experienced a similar life as a child, but at the end of the day, you are in control of your own destiny and future.”

With plans to graduate with his master’s in the spring of 2016, he hopes to gain a better understanding of health care systems so that he can utilize his passion for helping others and eradicating discrimination and intolerance, regardless of whether it is in the workplace or simply in our day to day lives.

“I would love to end up working in pediatric care, my dream job would be to one day work in upper management — such as a CEO — of a large pediatric hospital,” he said. “I love working with children and young adults, so I hope that one day I can inspire someone to show them that with hard work and a positive attitude that you can achieve your dreams regardless of where you came from.”