Three DePaul graduate students in Nursing were named Schweitzer Fellows* for 2010-2011. (The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship is a national service learning program through which graduate students implement innovative projects to improve the health and well being of residents in vulnerable communities.)
Sara Rosenthal and Courtney Driscoll are working with the UPLIFT Community High School to curb adolescent obesity by educating the school’s teens about healthy lifestyle choices and behavior. Sarah Cordes is working with Chicago Lights, an outreach organization at Fourth Presbyterian Church, on an oral history project serving the community’s elderly.
Why did you choose your particular project?
Rosenthal: According to the CDC, 17.6 percent of adolescents in the U.S. are obese. In Chicago, the situation is even worse, with more than 25 percent of teens having Body Mass Indexes at or above the 95th percentile (Sinai Health System Survey). Obesity takes a toll, not just on the kids themselves, but on communities already struggling with inadequate resources. With this project, we have a rare opportunity to make a difference by working with the teens, in their school environment, to make better choices.
Driscoll: We’re helping students adopt healthy habits, including nutritional diets and daily exercise. And we’re encouraging them to influence their peers and families in adopting health-promoting habits.
Cordes: The origin of my project is personal. Before beginning my nursing degree program, I had worked in hospice, and I wanted to continue to serve older adults, especially those living alone in the community.
What do you hope to achieve?
Rosenthal: When it comes to diet, we’re helping the teens make better choices — say, a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar; we’re showing them how to change recipes to be more nutritious, prepare a healthy meal, from soup to side dishes, and shop for good food on a budget. To get the kids moving, we’re doing it all: salsa dancing, yoga, basketball, volley ball, soccer, spinning, cycling, and jogging. Some of our students ran the “Pumpkins in the Park” 5K race in October.
Driscoll: We’re hoping our program participants pick up healthy habits that they’ll keep for a lifetime — that’s more important than a smaller waistline or ability to run a seven-minute mile. Success is personal and individual; we’re looking for changes in perspective and in attitude.
Cordes: In my project, I’m hoping to reduce the loneliness and improve the self esteem of elderly individuals. It’s great for them to share their stories. Some people just want to talk and show me some pictures; some want to capture anecdotes to go with a photo album they’ve already put together.
What does being a Schweitzer Fellow mean to you?
Cordes: Like so many others at DePaul, I came into nursing with a service perspective: I want to use my degree to work with under-served populations. But once I started the academic program, it was easy to get caught up in all the work and lose sight of this goal. So, the fellowship project is reminding me of why I wanted to become a nurse, while giving me experience that will be relevant to my future work. I’ve also enjoyed meeting other Fellows — nurses, med students, clinical psychologists, law students, and art therapists; their projects are inspiring.
Rosenthal: I agree — it’s great networking with like-minded people. Also, I think a big part of nursing is being an educator; being a Fellow is letting us put that mission in practice.
Driscoll: Even small ways, we’re having an impact and making a difference.
*Last year more than 100 Chicago students applied for this prestigious award; only 30 were selected. The Chicago Schweitzer program is wholly administered by Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, a small local nonprofit that is devoted to improving health and access to care for Chicago and Illinois, especially for the working poor and uninsured.