Inspired and Inspiring
Pictured above: The Women Leaders in Global Health conference in Rwanda.
Earlene Avalon was thrilled. In her first trip to Africa for the third annual Women Leaders in Global Health conference, not only did she meet Zoleka Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, but also leading international health equity hero and Partners In Health co-founder Paul Farmer. The First Lady of Rwanda and Her Royal Highness of Jordan were also guest speakers.
The conference, held from November 9–10, 2019 in Rwanda, celebrated women in leadership roles and connected leaders from around the world to work toward gender equity in the field of global health.
Avalon, Assistant Professor and Lead Faculty of the Health Management and Health Science programs, first got involved with the conference when, as a volunteer at Brookline High School, she brought a group of students from the school’s African American and Latino Scholars program to the Global Health Film Festival in London in 2017. There she met Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the former Minister of Health for Rwanda, and they kept in touch. Binagwaho invited Earlene to lead a mentoring session at the conference, held at the University of Global Health Equity where Binagwaho was Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive.
Avalon was particularly moved by Zoleka Mandela’s personal story about surviving breast cancer, and its implications regarding healthcare inequity. “Her discussion was really on access,” she says. “Mrs. Mandela shared that because of her privilege she had access to various lifesaving healthcare services. She challenged that audience to think about what that means for women and their families who do not have the same resources she does in terms of access to cancer treatment. That was really powerful to me,” Avalon says, “because a lot of those same issues are currently being played out here in the United States in terms of who has access to what treatment. It can be financial, it can be race, it can be gender, it can be geographical diversity – so there were definitely a lot of similarities there.”
Avalon’s mentoring group included recent medical school graduates, seasoned physicians and members of graduate programs in other clinical disciplines, all of whom were particularly interested in global health and leadership. “Many of the women are already practicing clinicians across the globe, but they wanted to get into healthcare leadership and policymaking. They want to be part of the decision-making process,” Avalon says. “And so I provided insight in terms of how I was able to move up through the ranks in healthcare, and suggestions they might want to consider as they continue to advance and develop their careers.”
Since the group included women from all over the world, “it was fascinating just to hear about some of the cultural differences of women practitioners and healthcare leaders, and some of the challenges they face in their respective countries in terms of either their gender, their ethnicity or even class,” Avalon says. “We took time to get to know each other, to understand some of those unique differences.”
Avalon created an online community for the group to continue to connect after the conference was over. She likes to use the term “mentoring circle.” “We created our own ‘support village’ for each other, because often [these women] felt really alone or isolated. The further they advanced, the more isolated and alone they became,” she says. “Knowing they have this supportive group of women throughout the world who are caring for them – who are cheering them on – who are rooting for their success – has just been tremendous.”
After returning home, Avalon thought about ways to bring her conference experience into the classroom. She believes it’s important for students to be aware of the work their professors are doing outside the university walls. “Often students see us as educators, but not necessarily see us in practice. So I’m always trying to bring in those real-life experiences,” she says.
Sharing these experiences with her Northeastern undergraduate students, Avalon believes, will encourage them to broaden their view of public health to a global perspective. “Expanding our understanding of some of the health implications on an international level can really help us look at what we can do to improve our communities,” she says. Reflecting on how Partners In Health was created, she adds, “People from all different disciplines have to work together to improve our world and make it a better place for future generations. That’s one of the things I’m hoping to teach my students.”
She also helps her students look ahead to their own futures. “Oftentimes, you’re in the midst of going to school, or working or raising a family, and it’s hard to imagine the possibilities out there,” Avalon says. “As an educator, I’m always trying to help students imagine where they could be in five years, 10 years, 15 years as a result of using networks and connections – and more importantly, stepping outside their comfort zone to learn new things and explore new opportunities.”
Avalon’s students are grateful for her encouragement. As Health Management student Leala Tanous enthused upon learning about Avalon’s involvement in the conference, “This is so inspiring! It feels good to know someone who makes such a difference in our world!”
Experiential Excellence Celebrated—Students and Employers Both See Benefit
With experience-driven learning a cornerstone of a Northeastern education, the College of Professional Studies presented its annual Experiential Excellence award to 10 students in June. Students, and the employers and sponsors who supervised their work and nominated them for recognition, gathered with faculty and other academic leaders to celebrate the power of applied learning at the undergraduate and graduate levels. All student winners engaged in meaningful professional experience in the form of co-op positions (working full-time for an employer), a sponsored project in their course or capstone, or an experiential project at their current place of work. Students’ experiences were directly aligned with their academic work, complementing the body of knowledge in their chosen field with an industry-embedded perspective.
Notably, the Excellence award winners demonstrated outstanding commitment to the university partners they partnered with on experiential opportunity. These opportunities are broad and representative of the global reach Northeastern and its student benefit from. This year, the students’ work included planning and implementing a talent acquisition strategy for an education organization, strengthening digital engagement for an arts and advocacy organization, and creating and managing a quality assurance program in the regulatory affairs unit of a contract development and manufacturing organization, among other outstanding experiences. The common thread though all of the students’ work is their enthusiasm for their chosen industries and their demonstrated ability to connect their academic learning to practice in the workplace, ultimately producing incredibly valuable work for their sponsors and employers.
One award winner, Michel Jennings, is a spring 2019 graduate of the Master of Education in eLearning and Instructional design program. She traveled from Denver, where she attended the program as an online student, to participate in the awards ceremony and celebrate her new job in instructional design over lunch with Melissa Fristrom, leadership development consultant and CEO of Core Allies, Inc., Jennings’ project sponsor. In her project for Core Allies, Inc., Jennings turned a Career Transition Lesson Plan into a 10-class interactive course, essentially creating a new product and revenue stream for Core Allies. Fristrom praised Jennings’ strategic approach to the project: “She asked the right questions to help me be creative and innovative. She demonstrated a desire to understand what I was looking for as a business person.” Jennings notes that another ingredient to the success of the project was her own interest: “It helped that I was super-passionate about this topic.” Jennings said that the two reasons she chose the Northeastern Master of Education in eLearning and Instructional Design program were the opportunity to create an ePortfolio of her work, which she saw as critical to landing a good job upon graduating, and the opportunity to undertake an experiential project.
Indeed, Northeastern faculty and staff in attendance were moved by each award winner’s sentiment on the importance of experiential work alongside their academic curriculum; all students remarked on the lasting impact their experience has had on their professional skillset and career trajectory.
Following are the 2019 Experiential Excellence Award winners:
Mariella Hidalgo Del Alamo—Master of Science in Leadership
- Sponsor: Kathleen Egger, Learnwell
- Project: Talent Acquisition Strategy
- Award: Co-Curricular XN Award
- The project with LearnWell served to support the human resources unit with the primary function of growing talent acquisition with home instruction tutors. Del Alamo presented tangible quantitative and qualitative goals, one of which was to grow the number of teachers hired in 2019. Through the course of her Experiential Network project, she was successful in hiring 16 teachers and provided a deep dive analysis on recruitment engagement and best practices to attract talent.
Abhishek Jaiswal—Master of Professional Studies in Analytics
- Employer: Allison Ruda, Northeastern University as an Analytics Solutions Advisor
- Co-op Award
- Jaiswal designed a database architecture that not only supports—but fundamentally accelerates—Northeastern’s ability to make powerful connections between industry needs, learner goals, and academic content and experiences. Abhishek worked to understand the curriculum design principles and program development approaches, as well as the human and technological processes and systems needed to support them. He then brought this knowledge together with the technological and analytical skill sets he is honing in the Analytics program to develop a functional database prototype and Tableau visualizations.
Sanchi Jain—Master of Science in Regulatory Affairs of Drugs, Biologics and Devices
- Employer: Jeffery Pistor, Paragon Bio Services Inc. as a Quality Assurance Co-op
- Award: Co-op Award
- Jain created a quick search MS Access Database for Change Control records which improved employee efficiency by conserving 70% of their time consumed in finding paper records. Jain generated, analyzed and tracked the trends of raw material management process of the company, streamlined it and improved the process by 20% and digitized paper records. She conducted a 3-day Internal Audit of Facilities and Engineering department and drafted an Audit Report.
Suwarna Kale, Weipeng Zhang, Yiyi Zhang, Jaspreet Kaur Sawhney—Master of Professional Studies in Informatics
- Sponsor: Sebastien Mannai, ADS
- Project: Cloud Development
- Award: XN in Curricular Group
- Each of the students contributed their unique skills to help the company develop advanced and comprehensive IT solutions, including AWS Cloud infrastructure architecting, Internet of Things device set-up, data storage and management, data streaming, analytics, and visualization (dashboard). Each of them worked on different perspective of the project (Weipeng even applied his earlier computer hardware training), but jointly they delivered a project that represents the cutting-edge IT applications.
Amanda Nolan—Bachelor of Science in Health Management
- Sponsor: Dedham Medical Associates
- Project (self-developed): Improve Health Information Management/Electronic Health Record System to improve overall efficiency
- Award: XN at Work
- Nolan scheduled meetings with numerous individuals in different departments to learn more about some of the challenges others faced when entering and accessing information in the electronic health record (EHR). Nolan not only identified challenges to the timely entry of vital medical information into the EHR, but also valued the ripple effect it had on the provider/patient relationship.
Molly Chase—Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication
- Sponsor: Andy Short- Improbable Players
- Project: Digital Marketing Strategy
- Award: XN in Curricular- CMN 6940 Projects for Professionals
- Chase developed a set of recommendations for this innovative nonprofit which wanted to leverage its digital outreach more effectively. Her project addressed three key components of a digital strategy. The first component was to improve the web content by effectively and creatively telling the stories of actors, in an effort to attach relatability and empathy, and by better showcasing what Improbable Players does. The second component was to increase audience awareness of Improbable Players through various social media outlets and content. The third component was to experiment and take controlled risks with e-mail marketing in order to engage the donors and prospective partners who are on the current mailing list. Her final report to the client was exceptional in terms of depth of research, creativity, and practicality of the implementation steps. She fully incorporated the consultative process that is embedded in the capstone course and developed a strong relationship with the sponsor.
For more information on experiential learning opportunities, please visit: https://cps.northeastern.edu/experiential-learning.