Student Fellows Focus on the Social Side of Health

This summer a good number of students sought out health-related internships that took place outside the hospital or doctor’s clinic and instead were situated within the community. Several were supported financially with fellowships from Bowdoin. Below are brief descriptions of three students’ summer positions, all supported by grants from Bowdoin Career Planning’s funded internship program.

Rowan Staley ’18
Major: Neuroscience, religion
Grant: Preston Public Interest Career Fund
Internship: Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, Portland, Maine

Last January, Rowan Staley participated in a Bowdoin Alternative Winter Break program that looked at human trafficking and poverty in Maine. This made Staley curious about one of the organizations most actively helping trafficking victims, Preble Street. For 25 years, Executive Director Mark Swann ’84 has led Preble Street, a nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

“I knew that hunger and poverty were big problems, but it blew my mind just how great the hunger crisis has grown in the US,” Staley said. One of her responsibilities this summer has been to deliver food to children at USDA-approved meal sites throughout Portland. The federal government partners with local agencies to bring free lunches to children whose families are not able to provide regular meals during the summer. During the school year, these children typically receive subsidized meals at their schools.

rowan and sophie

Sophie Cowen ’18 and Rowan Staley ’18

Staley served meals with Sophie Cowen ’18, who had a McKeen Center Community Matters fellowship this summer to also intern at Preble Street. Between 10 and 20 children regularly showed up to receive the lunches. After the children finished eating, Cowen and Staley read books to them, did crafts, or played nutrition-themed games.

Another project Staley and Cowen worked on together was running focus groups with people who regularly use food pantries. The two students were asked to find out what barriers low-income people face in obtaining food and how they felt the USDA’s food assistance program, SNAP, was working for them. This experience gave Staley and Cowen a close-up view of people’s paths to poverty.

“Poverty is not having a buffer,” Staley said. “People might be leading successful lives but then something goes wrong, like they develop diabetes or have an accident, and there’s no room to deal with these things.”

Staley said this summer has made her more interested in incorporating public health into her future plans. She had thought she wanted to attend medical school to become a clinical doctor, but she is now also considering studying public health. “Public health organizations can be effective and make a difference in people’s lives,” she observed. She added that she’s also noted “a shift among physicians and healthcare providers to recognize the social aspects of health.”

Zachary Hebert ’18
Major: Sociology
Grant: Strong/Gault Social Advancement Internship Grant
Internship: Healthy Oxford Hills, Norway, Mainezach hebert

Last summer, Zach Hebert worked as an EMT in Turner, Maine, and in Portland. This summer, Hebert headed back to his home in western Maine to pursue another health-related job. He has been interning for Healthy Oxford Hills, a nonprofit set up originally with funding from a major tobacco settlement.

Besides assisting the six staff people at Healthy Oxford Hills, Hebert this summer created a map displaying fitness-related assets—such as playgrounds, running tracks, ball fields, and trails—in each town in the region. This work is part of a report mandated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Hebert also updated the “Oxford County Moves” website with resources and information that can help people be more active.

Hebert said he has enjoyed learning about a new side of a region he knows well. “Growing up in the area, especially in Hebron where I’m from, it was hard to see the positive things going on in the Oxford Hills,” he said, since the area’s unemployment and poverty are so glaring. “So working here in the office, and working with people who are very invested in the area and trying to revitalize it and start new initiatives has been great.”

In the spring, Hebert is joining a study abroad program that will take him to Vietnam, South Africa, and Argentina, where he will study the differences in the three nations’ healthcare systems. “I have always had a desire to find a career that would let me help people,” Hebert said.

Harrison Carmichael ’17
Major: Neuroscience, with a minor in Hispanic studies
Grant: Preston Public Interest Career Fund
Internship: Supportive Living, Inc., Lexington, Mass.harrison carmichael

Last year Harrison Carmichael helped establish a new student group on campus, Polar Brain Alliance, which trains volunteer students to support peers struggling with concussions. The rising senior is continuing work in this area this summer by interning with a nonprofit that assists people with brain injuries.

Supportive Living, Inc., based in the greater Boston area, provides housing for brain-injured residents, as well as offers them therapeutic programs such as physical fitness training, music therapy, and occupational therapy.

Carmichael connected with the organization through a Bowdoin alumna, Dr. Laura Lorenz ’76, who is the research and education director for the Supportive Living Brain Injury Wellness Center. At a networking event, Carmichael told her of his interest in neuroscience and neurology, and once he had secured a Preston grant from Bowdoin’s Career Planning center, he joined SLI for the summer and became Lorenz’s research assistant. He and Lorenz are gathering data on the organization’s fitness program to see what is working for residents and what SLI can do better, according to Carmichael. He also assisted with the organization’s fitness program. Exercise has been shown to increase patients’ cognition and mobility, he explained.

Carmichael said the best part of the summer has been “getting to know the residents…They are a great group of people, very optimistic, very resilient.”

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