by Morven Higgins, Health & Medicine Policy Research Group
University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine student Christianah Ogunleye, MS2 has been selected for the prestigious Schweitzer Fellowship, a year-long service learning program that empowers Fellows to design and implement projects that help address the health needs of underserved Chicago communities.
Named in honor of famed humanitarian and Nobel laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellows Program encourages students to become lifelong leaders in service by helping to address unmet health needs among vulnerable Chicagoland residents. In collaboration with existing community organizations, each Schweitzer Fellow will launch a community-based project, providing 200 hours of service. Using a broad public health lens, the new Fellows will work to improve community wellbeing and target the social determinants of health—the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age that have a profound impact on health and quality of life.
For her project, Ogunleye will implement a physical and mental wellness curriculum for female African American adolescents at the Washington Park Chicago Youth Program. She plans to utilize creative physical expression to emphasize the importance of the mind-body connection and promote a healthy lifestyle.
“In a society that more often than not fails to provide representation for young, Black women, it is very easy for this group to feel isolation and stigmatization concerning certain public health issues, particularly mental health, a topic that is often considered to be taboo within the African American community,” Ogunleye said. “I hope to provide young African American girls with the resources to alleviate mental health stressors by pairing the creative physical expression of gymnastics with mindfulness techniques like breathing and meditation. My goal is to emphasize the mind-body connection and help these adolescents acquire a toolbox of skills to combat the emotional challenges of life.”
Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach, the Fellowship exposes students to real-world inter-professional, collaborative care and aims to develop lifelong leaders in service. The 30 2018-19 Fellows include students from 10 area universities and 20 academic programs, ranging from nursing to disability studies and public health. The exceptional class of Fellows was selected from a pool of almost 100 applicants through a competitive process.
“I was primarily drawn to the Fellowship by my desire to engage in direct, hands-on service with communities on the South Side of Chicago outside of medicine,” Ogunleye shared. “Being a Fellow provides me with the opportunity to create and collaborate with a multitude of service-orientated individuals in a variety of disciplines. I hope to gain a wealth of new skills and a new found appreciation for these communities.”
In addition to their service projects, Ogunleye and her peers will also participate in a thirteen-month Program that includes monthly meetings, trainings, and ongoing opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration as well as support from a team of mentors from their schools, project sites, alumni network and staff.
“The Schweitzer Fellows Program serves a very important purpose that benefits both Fellows and underserved communities. The Chicago Program has done an excellent job in promoting the Fellowship and supporting Fellows throughout their program to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful,” said Elizabeth Aquino, PhD, RN, an Assistant Professor at DePaul University School of Nursing. As a recent Schweitzer faculty mentor, Aquino said the best part of her experience with mentoring Fellows is “seeing the Fellows’ project ideas come to reality and the impact they have made within the community.”
The new Fellows join a network of over 600 Chicago Program alumni who have provided over 120,000 hours of community service to more than 150 community groups over the course of the Program’s twenty plus year history.
“The Schweitzer Fellowship was an instrumental part of my medical school experience—both the work I did in the community, but possibly more importantly the relationships I formed with students from other disciplines and other schools. I am glad to continue to support the Fellowship as a member of the Advisory Council and to welcome this new cohort of Fellows to the Schweitzer community,” said Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, MD. In addition to serving on the Schweitzer Advisory Council, Dr. Salisbury-Afshar is an alumna of the Fellowship as well as a board member at Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, the non-profit health policy center that administers the Chicago Fellowship.
"In the face of ongoing uncertainty in our health care system and increased threats to our most marginalized community members, the role of our Schweitzer Fellows as ambassadors of hope is more important than ever," said Margie Schaps, Executive Director of Health & Medicine. “This sort of community impact is only possible through the steadfast commitment of the many individuals, academic institutions, and local foundations that support this program including the Baxter International Foundation, the Michael Reese Health Trust, and the VNA Foundation. We are deeply grateful for their generosity as we welcome this dynamic group of Fellows to the Schweitzer community.”