Jon Alpern was planning to go to graduate school in public health until he took a class and went on a service trip to Peru with political science professor Rick Mayes.
"I knew at the end of the day I wanted to heal," he said. He is now pursuing his medical degree at the Medical College of Virginia.
During the 2009-10 academic year, 14 sophomores will be able to have the experience of traveling to Peru on a community service trip.
"There are so many people dying who don't have to die," Mayes said Tuesday to students in a nearly-full lecture hall. He argued that students of every major should care about public health, which he said was a moral, economic and national security issue.
The trip to Peru will be part of Mayes's global health, infectious disease and human rights course, where students will be living together in Lakeview residence hall.
The class will be one of four living-and-learning programs to be part of the university's new Sophomore Scholars-in-Residence Program. Each class will receive $20,000 to pay for travel, activities and guest speakers.
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On Tuesday, he gave a presentation about the condition of health in developing countries, where greatest causes of death are AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, diarrheal diseases and childbirth.
"One of the goals [of public health] is to find things that are in abundance and get them to places where they are badly needed."
During spring 2007, Mayes met weekly with a group of students to discuss public health in the developing world, and obtained funding to take some students to Peru during spring break. He created a formal course in spring 2008, which was the prototype for the SSIR course.
"In the end," Mayes said, "one of the biggest factors in how you succeed in college, and whether you enjoy it, is if you make good friends." The courses would provide an opportunity for students who may not be part of Greek life to find a niche, he said, in addition to allowing students to network with alumni and develop relationships with professors.
Previous class members are looking for ways to continue the work they started in Peru. Yasmin Wazir, a senior who went on the first trip to Peru, said she had started a public health group on campus to raise awareness and find ways to send health supplies, such as vitamins, to Peru. The group has met once this year and plans to meet again this week.
Alpern, who graduated in 2007, went on the first trip when he was a senior, then served as a co-instructor for the course and co-leader of the 2008 trip while he was first-year student at MCV. He returned to Peru this summer to begin a public health research project with two members of Mayes' first global health class.
Nina Antani, a sophomore who traveled to Peru this past spring, said she had the opposite reaction when she took Mayes's health care policy and practice course last May term. She was planning on becoming a doctor, but said after the course she realized she was more interested in health care policy. She said she has asked Mayes to write her letters of recommendation to complete internships in health policy this summer.
Other SSIR courses next year will include: Demanding Equality: Activism in the American South Since Reconstruction, led by Melissa Ooten; Civic Engagement House, led by Amy Howard; and Opening Nights: The Impact of Arts Organizations, led by David Howson. Students will apply for the courses in spring 2009.
Students enrolled in each course will receive one unit of credit during the fall semester and 0.5 unit credit in the spring. During the fall semester students will learn about the topic and plan for a group research project, and the spring semester they will do the group project and present their research at the Arts and Sciences Research Symposium in April.
If the programs are successful, university administrators plant to expand it to 10 courses by 2013.
Mayes left Wednesday morning for Peru, where he will be spending nine months of his sabbatical doing research in maternal and child health and working with Hinterland Ministries.
Contact staff writer Kimberly Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org
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