ECU student Alex Baumgarten, left, interacts with a young Pitt County student at the Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Center in Greenville, where Baumgarten and ECU student Hetal Patel have initiated a program to promote healthy lifestyles. The outreach program is part of their service as 2015-16 North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Schweitzer Fellows serve others, gain leadership skills

Nov. 12, 2015

By Alyssa Gutierrez
ECU News Services

Six East Carolina University graduate students are doing their part to uphold the university’s motto, “Servire” – “ to serve” – after being named North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Four students in the Brody School of Medicine and two in the School of Dental Medicine are partnering with community-based organizations to develop and implement yearlong service projects that address health disparities in under-resourced populations – all while undergoing leadership development training.

Building self-esteem in youth

Brody students Alex Baumgarten and Hetal Patel launched a girls’ running group and healthy lifestyles afterschool program for elementary and middle school students at the Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Center. The center is committed to identifying and addressing the health and wellness needs of West Greenville residents through innovative programs designed for individuals of all ages.
Alex Baumgarten, left, and Hetal Patel, third from left, have formed an afterschool running club for girls at the Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Center. Among their goals is to train the girls for competition in a 5K race in April.

Patel brought up the idea of working with children, and after reflecting on her own childhood, Baumgarten agreed that helping the younger generation would be perfect for their fellowship project.

“I realized that being a part of a sports team had been one of the greatest impacts on my life. I loved feeling the accomplishment of meeting my goals,” said Baumgarten. “I wanted to be able to spread this experience to others who were not able to do so either because they did not feel comfortable exercising in front of others, or because they didn’t have the opportunity to have such an experience.”

Baumgarten and Patel come together weekly to coach two groups of 12 girls each in hopes of preparing them to complete a 5K race by April 2016.

“I hope to instill the value of exercise and self-confidence in the girls throughout the program,” said Baumgarten. “I hope to help give them confidence and self-esteem.”

Balancing independence in seniors

While Baumgarten and Patel chose to focus on the health and wellness of youth in Pitt County, classmates Elizabeth Rossitch and Haily Vora are concentrating their efforts on the county’s elderly by partnering with the Pitt County Council on Aging to conduct free “Matter of Balance” classes at local community centers.

Matter of Balance is an 8-week group intervention where seniors learn to view falls and the fear of falling as manageable. They set goals to increase physical activity, adjust their environment to reduce the risk of falling, and exercise to increase strength and balance.

It was an easy decision for Rossitch and Vora to focus their project on the elderly because both had personal experience dealing with seniors who had fallen. Rossitch, who has served as an EMT for three years prior to medical school, had responded to many elderly individuals who had fallen and wanted to empower people in that situation. Vora’s grandmother became immobile and dependent on others after her intense fear of falling stopped her from performing daily activities.

Both Rossitch and Vora believe that meeting the health care needs of the growing geriatric population is crucial today.

“We must have the resources in place to provide quality care to the section of our population that will need it the most,” said Vora. “This can be done by having enough providers in the workforce and making care accessible both financially and geographically.”

Rossitch and Vora are passionate about making people aware that it’s possible to stay strong and independent as they age. They have already garnered continued support for their project beyond their fellowship year through ECU’s Pre-Occupational Therapy Club for undergraduate students.

Bolstering oral health during pregnancy

School of Dental Medicine fellows Kaitlyn Anderson and Mary Bec Keith have set up a prenatal oral health program to educate pregnant women about the importance of oral health, train medical students and residents to screen for oral health issues, and connect people to ECU dental clinics.
ECU dental students Mary Bec Keith, left, and Kaitlyn Anderson, center, discuss dental care with Charity Newark, an OBGYN patient at the Brody School of Medicine.

“The goal of the project is to get pregnant women in the community the dental treatment and education they need, but also give the dental students the opportunity to gain experience treating pregnant patients so they will feel comfortable doing so once they graduate,” said Keith.

Both students were inspired by the career of a family member. Anderson’s mother works with pregnant teenagers as a social worker for Pitt County Schools, and Keith’s aunt is a labor and delivery nurse at Greenville’s Vidant Medical Center.

Their project, which is being funded by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, was modeled after the prenatal Oral Health Program (pOHP) at the University of North Carolina’s School of Dentistry.

“pOHP is a program that refers patients from an OB/GYN clinic to the dental school,” said Anderson.  “We loved the idea of this project and thought it would have a significant impact on the pregnant women of eastern North Carolina.”

The pair set up a referral system and trained East Carolina’s OB/GYN residents to identify patients who might need dental treatment. They hope all 52 graduating dental students will get to work with a pregnant patient before the year is complete.

“Through the Schweitzer Fellowship, I have been able to remind myself of why I chose to enter this field,” said Keith. “This experience has already taught me how to become a better leader, communicate with people from all different backgrounds, manage my time better and think about all parties involved in situations.”

Fellows for Life

“Albert Schweitzer once said, ‘Do something wonderful; people may imitate it,’” Rossitch said. “I hope to lead by example as a Schweitzer Fellow and inspire others to work with a population they feel passionate about.”

This year 20 Schweitzer Fellows were named across the state, along with another 200 nationwide. They all work with mentors at one of 13 program sites across the U.S. and in Lambaréné, Africa, where physician-humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer founded a hospital in 1913. 

Since 1994, the North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program has supported more than 400 fellows from many academic disciplines through funding from various foundations, academic institutions and individual donors.

Upon completion of their fellowship year, fellows become Schweitzer Fellows for Life and join a vibrant network of several thousand Schweitzer alumni who are skilled in – and committed to – improving the health and well-being of underserved people throughout their careers.