issue Community Health 2024

Schweitzer Fellowship Project Addresses Unmet Needs

By Sara Skoog
Ms. Londono Alzate working with the certified medical interpreter team at RFU’s Interprofessional Community Clinic.

Second-year Chicago Medical School student Ruth Londono Alzate’s service in the Peace Corps — along with her experiences closer to home as a high school student in RFU’s neighboring community of Zion, Illinois — inspired the community service project she is pursuing for the 2023–24 Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellowship.

Ruth Londono Alzate, CMS ’26, was selected in July 2023 for the distinguished Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellowship — a yearlong service-learning program that provides graduate students in health-related fields with opportunities to design and implement innovative projects that address the health needs of underserved Chicago communities.

“For my fellowship project, I knew I wanted to do something with high schoolers, teaching them tools like self-esteem and emotional intelligence.”

A graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, Illinois, a community only 10 miles away from RFU’s North Chicago campus, Ms. Londono Alzate said her memories of attending a school with a diverse Hispanic and Black student population made her more aware of the unmet needs she and many of her fellow students faced.

“Growing up in Zion, I saw the need for empowerment and healthy coping mechanisms in the youth,” said Ms. Londono Alzate. “I applied to the Schweitzer Fellowship because it is a great opportunity to give back to the community I grew up in and utilize the skills I learned in the Peace Corps to bridge gaps in health education and mental health access in my community.

“For my fellowship project, I knew I wanted to do something with high schoolers, teaching them tools like self-esteem and emotional intelligence,” Ms. Londono Alzate added. Her project proposes three primary outcomes for the Hispanic and Black high school student participants: increased knowledge of leadership theories; learning and using specific skills for coping with life stressors and emotions; and awareness of local resources that can help students achieve their career goals and optimal wellness.

Ms. Londono Alzate is currently working with high school-aged students at Beacon Place, a neighborhood community center in Waukegan, Illinois, that provides support services to families in need. She hopes to expand the reach of her project to include students at her alma mater in Zion. “This is a really cool learning experience for me, finding out everything that goes into bringing a project like this to a school.”

Building Healthier Lives in Guatemala

Ruth Londono Alzate, CMS ’26 with fellow Peace Corps workers in Guatemala.
Ruth Londono Alzate, CMS ’26, with fellow Peace Corps workers in Guatemala.

After graduating from college and before completing RFU’s Pre-Matriculation Program, Ms. Londono Alzate spent two-and-a-half years working with the Peace Corps in Guatemala. She credits her time serving in the Peace Corps with strengthening her understanding of assessing and meeting community needs and fostering community engagement. “The program I worked with incorporated health education in the primary care curriculum and primary schools curriculum,” she said. “We would talk about healthy food and why things like hand-washing and proper food preparation were so important.

“We also did a lot of work with infrastructure, like replacing latrines with actual bathrooms that have flushable toilets. Many of the villagers cooked with wood on the floor of their homes because that’s all they had, so we built kitchens for some of them. And the residents were working right alongside us. I thought it was really beautiful, because everyone was pitching in — the Peace Corps workers, the parents in the homes and the municipalities. Everybody was contributing to make these things happen.”

CMS Senior Communications Specialist Candice Kosanke contributed to this article.

Sara Skoog is a staff writer with RFU’s Division of Marketing and Brand Management. In addition to writing for Helix and other university publications, she also produces Pulse, RFU’s monthly e-newsletter.