Schweitzer Fellows Engage Communities to Improve Health

Schweitzer Fellows Engage Communities to Improve Health

By Melinda Cassidy
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern

By the age of 30, Albert Schweitzer had already authored three books and made landmark scholarly contributions in the fields of music, religion and philosophy. However, aware of the desperate medical needs of Africans, he decided to become a doctor and devote the rest of his life to direct service in Africa. In 1913, when he was 37, Dr. Schweitzer and his wife, Hlne, opened a hospital in Lambarn, Gabon. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship supports graduate and professional students who wish to follow in pioneering humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer's footsteps*.

T.M. Ayodele Adesanya, an MD-Ph.D. student in biomedical sciences, had a passion for the kids at Champion Middle School on the Near East Side of Columbus after learning in 2010 that the state declared it to be the most underperforming middle school in Ohio. The Columbus-Athens Albert Schweitzer Fellows program (ASF), a year-long fellowship in which graduate and professional students design and implement community engagement projects, gave him an opportunity to help.

"I read an article talking about the poor academic state of the middle school at the time unfortunately, and the article really just went in on the school," Adesanya said. "I was reading it the whole time thinking, 'They're sixth graders, you can't give up on them.'"

Wanting to expose students to healthcare professions, Adesanya started a mentorship program at Champion in 2012. When he became a Schweitzer Fellow in 2013, he had the opportunity to expand his program, spending more than the ASF-required 200 hours on the project.

Activities within the mentorship program included seminars for practicing standardized testing problems, visits to Nationwide Children's Hospital a corporate partner of the Columbus-Athens chapter of the ASF and trips to the Ohio State campus for lab tours and dental workshops that gave kids the opportunity to make dental molds.

Adesanya's project is one of many that comprise the ASF's Columbus-Athens chapter, which was established in 2010 to encourage students to partner with surrounding communities to meet the health-related needs of underserved populations. This fall the program will recruit its fifth class.

In true Buckeye fashion, this chapter of the program differs from the 12 others across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Instead of recruiting graduate and professional students exclusively from Ohio State, Columbus-Athens Fellows also come from Ohio University and Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus.

"Because OU is involved, not only are our projects targeting urban underserved, but also rural underserved," said Chip Bahn, Columbus-Athens ASF program director. "That definitely has us standing out from the others."

In the last four years, 61 graduate or professional students from studies including art, business, medicine, public health and social work have passed through the Fellowship, or are currently doing so.

Bahn said this diversity in discipline also bolsters the distinctiveness of the Columbus-Athens chapter.

"(An art student) told the story of Somali immigration through the eyes of young women and did it graphically," Bahn said. "It's unlikely a student from a traditional health care field would have come up with that idea, and it also underscores that anyone who has a passion for a population that's vulnerable in the community can be involved and make something happen."

Although his Fellowship year ended in April, Adesanya's Doctor in Science (DiS) program continues at Champion because of its effect on the students.

"During recess after the first year, two girls were going back and forth on the playground: 'I want to be a pediatrician,' 'I want to be a surgeon,'" he said. "I don't know if they would have been saying those same things a year before had they not been in the DiS program."

Not every Fellow is able to stay with their project after their Fellowship year concludes, and in many cases it is up to the site to pick it up. But Bahn said that three-quarters of the program's projects since have been sustained "at least in part." Once the Fellows complete their year-long programs, they become Fellows for Life and are part of a nationwide ASF alumni network.

As for the future, Bahn said he hopes to see expansion of the annual recruited cohort to 25 students including 10 from OU as opposed to just three in the current cohort and further diversification of disciplines.

"Schweitzer was a multifaceted individual, so this program can and should be multidisciplinary," he said.

*Excerpted from the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship web site

View a list of Columbus-Athens Albert Schweitzer Fellows and their projects

Learn more about Albert Schweitzer

Contact: Terry Bahn,