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Five graduate students from Auburn University are part of the 2022-2023 class of Albert Schweitzer Scholars, the largest cohort yet for Alabama’s Albert Schweitzer Scholarship.
The class of 20 students, representing the fields of medicine, pharmacy, nursing, nutritional science, public health, dentistry and counseling at Auburn and the University of Alabama in Birmingham, will spend 13 months immersed in community public health projects.
Their projects will improve the health and social well-being of their select populations across the state while building their leadership skills. In doing so, they will carry on the legacy of the fellowship’s namesake, renowned humanitarian physician Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
The Auburn scholars are Chelsea Gayre, College of Nursing; Chigozie “Joi” Chinakwe, Micah Gray, and German “Andres” Tovar, Harrison College of Pharmacy; and Jou-Chun “Renee” Pan, College of Education.
“We share the Albert Schweitzer Alabama Fellowship’s commitment to meeting the current and future needs of underserved communities through the training of the next generation of healthcare professionals,” said Hollie C. Cost, vice- Assistant President for University Outreach and Public Service at Auburn. . “We are especially excited about the unique opportunity this provides our graduate students to develop and implement on-the-ground projects that positively impact these Alabama populations, continuing AU Outreach’s commitment in favor of fairness.”
Growing up in the small rural community of Carrollton, Ohio, Gayre developed an interest in rural communities and access to health care. Her fellowship project involves implementing telehealth services in primary care offices.
“The goal is to identify disparities in care, identify best practices and implement them with the aim of testing the feasibility of long-term success within community health centers,” he said. she declared. “We hope to fill gaps in the social determinants of health for people residing in rural communities who cannot travel to seek specialist care. I will work with the Vital Engine LLC telehealth platform. and partners from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Gayre is currently working as a part-time registered nurse in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Wellstar Health System in Georgia. She earned an associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree in nursing from Kent State University in Ohio before coming to Auburn for her master’s degree in nursing.
Pan, a first-year Masters student in the Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling program, has a passion for working with youth and emerging adults with disabilities to help them improve their quality of life and support their drive to break the stigma against disabilities in society.
Her project involves working with young adults with disabilities, including their caregivers, at the BraveHeart Center for Place and Purpose in Auburn to meet their unique needs using assistive technology to improve their quality of life. In addition to improving young people‘s time management, medication management, nutritional awareness and social interaction skills, this health and wellness project aims to help each student achieve their specific goals for the next chapter of his life using a holistic and person-centered approach. .
Pan says the ultimate goal will not only encourage a higher level of independence when transitioning into a work environment or furthering their education, but will also provide participants with a means to learn self-advocacy skills. , self-determination and empowerment.
Chinakwe and Grey, members of the Pharmacy Class of 2025, are partners in their project, “Junior Healthcare Leaders of Alabama,” which aims to bring health literacy and health equity to underserved communities in Macon County, Illinois. Alabama.
“Being able to give back to underserved communities in Alabama like those that reflect Macon County, Marengo County, and Dallas County has been a passion of mine since attending Tuskegee University,” Chinakwe said. “Being able to pass on Dr. Schweitzer’s legacy, teachings, and generosity to areas of Alabama where I have not only witnessed but experienced these struggles is so rewarding.”
To address this issue, Chinakwe and Gray will offer an after-school course to teach students how to manage medical conditions, prevent negative health effects, and prepare them for health events that commonly affect Alabamians on a daily basis.
“This scholarship will equip me with the tools to successfully plan and manage a community service project, focused on improving health disparities, as well as health literacy in these counties,” said Gray.
For Tovar, a member of the Pharmacy Class of 2024, his project, “Substance Use Disorder and Its Impact on Adolescent Brain Development,” is about addressing how adolescence is characterized by numerous neurological changes and increased hormonal production, both of which have an impact on behavior.
Although trends in teen alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use are declining nationally, Tovar notes that trends in Alabama are above national averages, making teen education and prevention essential. development of substance abuse disorders.
“I have found that by empowering our young people through knowledge and connection, it will empower them to make better choices with the ultimate goal of improving lives and improving society,” said he declared. “I feel inspired by the example of past and current Scholars and hope that I can contribute to the success of the Albert Schweitzer Scholarship as they have.”
Schweitzer Fellows work closely under the guidance of community site partners and academic mentors throughout the duration of the project. Gayre is mentored by nursing professor Linda Gibson-Young. Pan is mentored by Jinhee Park, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling Program.
Chinakwe and Gray are mentored by Lawanda Gray, Macon County Public Schools School Health Services Coordinator, and Pamela Stamm, associate professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Practice at Harrison College of Pharmacy. Tovar is mentored by Lindsey Hohmann, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice.
“The selection of new scholars each year is always a highlight, but this year held special significance due to the growth of more than 40% in the size of our 2022-23 cohort,” said Kristin Boggs, Executive Director from the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in Alabama. . “As vulnerable populations in our communities face significant barriers to health and improved quality of life, it is encouraging to see more students taking up the challenge of tackling these head-on. problems.
“We are thrilled to come alongside these students, as well as our academic and community partners, to channel their ideals and increase their commitment to using their knowledge to affect change in disadvantaged communities. »
At the end of their scholarship year, the 20 Schweitzer Scholars from Alabama and approximately 200 other 2022-23 Schweitzer Scholars from across the United States will become Schweitzer Scholars for Life, joining an active network of Schweitzer alumni pursuing their commitment to improving the public health of the underserved. communities throughout their careers.
Neal Reid, Matt Crouch and Latha Bhavnani contributed to this story.