Every Tuesday, Beyond Boulders runs a five-question interview with either a first-year Schweitzer Fellow or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life (ie, a Fellow whose initial year with ASF has been completed, but whose commitment to lifelong service continues).
In our new installment, we talk with 2008-09 New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellow Alissa Curda. Curda partnered with fellow Dartmouth Medical School [DMS] student Liz Killien (who will be interviewed in next week’s installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow”!). The team worked with Upper Valley Trails Alliance to implement Outdoor Odyssey, an outdoor education program for middle school students emphasizing an appreciation of the outdoors, choosing positive interests and activities, and adopting an active and healthy lifestyle.
Before coming to medical school, I had volunteered on many occasions as a camp counselor. I love being outdoors and spending time with adolescents and thus, the camp experience suited me well.
My hobbies and passions mostly revolve around being outside and enjoying all that nature has to offer. My personal career interests involve pediatric or adolescent medicine. Therefore, when scheming about possible projects that would help me become more a part of the community, I decided that it would be best to stick to what I am most passionate about and what I have experience with.
After much brainstorming, discussion, and planning with a DMS classmate and friend, Liz, Outdoor Odyssey was born. Outdoor Odyssey is an environmental activities and healthy living program for ‘at-risk’ 7th graders in the Upper Valley that involves events such as cross country skiing, hiking, CPR training, rock climbing, nutritional cooking, and boating.
What was the lasting impact of your project on the community it served?
We hope to have made a lasting impression on the individual children who participated in our program last year as well as future participants. The pioneering group last year consisted not of the ‘straight-A students,’ but children with behavioral problems, children from complicated social situations, or children with learning disabilities.
With a small group of 11 kids, Liz and I were able to connect with each of our kids on a deeper level and really get to know them, some of their parents, and what was going on in their lives. We worked hard to support them in all aspects of their lives, be positive role models for them, and encourage a healthy, active, lifestyle with good choices.
We have some success stories of huge leaps, and some stories of small baby steps with these kids. We take pride in any difference, however big or small, we made in these kids’ lives and the paths they will ultimately follow.
Two medical students in the class below us will be taking over Outdoor Odyssey, hopefully expanding it and facilitating its growth and integration into more schools, affecting more lives of pre-teens in this extremely impressionable time of their lives.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
I think the problem of obesity related to inactivity and unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices is the most pressing health issue in the United States. Obesity is extremely preventable and leads to multiple co-morbid conditions and health care costs, morbidities, mortalities, and quality of life impairments.
Recently, we are seeing many of the obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, gallstone disease, coronary artery disease, and hypertension in the younger population. Education is a large component of addressing this problem and schools need to continue to integrate nutrition, health, and exercise into their curriculum.
Many other directions can be taken as well to attack this growing obesity epidemic, including but not limited to: decreasing the prices of healthy foods and having healthy options more readily available in fast food restaurants and school cafeterias, posting nutritional information, encouraging walking and other active social activities, addressing the socioeconomic concerns that prevent kids from being involved with sports due to their need to earn an income, and increasing the number of active, extracurricular activity options — both competitive sports and noncompetitive activities.
What was the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
I would have to say that I was surprised by how much I truly enjoyed it. I knew I would have fun with this project and that is why I chose to do it; however, I also was prepared for the amount of work, the hurdles, and the stress that goes along with starting up a new program. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, even with all of these elements, it never seemed like work nor did I ever get tired of doing it. I always looked forward to the next event and genuinely enjoyed myself.
Liz and I learned to be flexible and just take each event one at a time, allowing each activity to shape itself. It really showed that if you involve yourself with a project you are passionate about, it never seems like work and really makes it easy to have successful program. Outdoor Odyssey defined a large aspect of my 2nd year of medical school and has been an incredibly valuable experience, giving me confidence that I can translate ideas into action.
What does Albert Schweitzer’s legacy mean to you, and how have you carried it with you since your initial year as a Fellow drew to a close?
His legacy is one of prioritizing service in a world of consumerism and capitalism that enforces individualism, selfishness, and personal gain as the road to success. Albert Schweitzer and his programs contradict this prevalent message and encourage professionals to incorporate a life of service, setting aside personal goals and replacing them with community goals.
After attending the 2008 Fellows for Life conference, I was inspired and encouraged by the many individuals who are devoted to service in their personal and professional lives. They have made their careers in law, medicine, engineering, and other fields that are not necessarily innately service-oriented prioritize selfless betterment of the broader community into their practices.
It is possible to prevent your ideals and actions from contradicting and to live a life of service. As a future doctor, I met many incredible role models who are improving healthcare and working for socioeconomic equality in health services, one step at a time.
Check back next week for our interview with Curda’s partner in launching Operation Odyssey, Liz Killien.
ASF’s New Hampshire-Vermont program was founded in 1996; since then, its Fellows have delivered over 56,000 hours of community service. Click here for more info.