AMHERST, N.Y. – Daemen College student Lumeshwar Kumar gained valuable real-world experience that blended his undergraduate and graduate studies as a participant in a two-month public health project in rural Uganda. The opportunity helped to hone his professional skills while also making a difference in the lives of residents thousands of miles away.
Less than two weeks after receiving his bachelor’s degree in health promotion from Daemen last May, Kumar traveled to Uganda to complete a professional practicum as he started the college’s master of public health (MPH) major, an accelerated program that offers students the opportunity to earn two degrees in only five years. He credits this immersive two-month experience with enriching his current classroom learning and helped him develop skills that will prepare him for success in his career.
“During my undergraduate studies at Daemen, I participated in three outstanding international service learning experiences so going to Uganda was a natural fit for me as part of my graduate studies,” said Kumar, a Bronx resident. “Completing my practicum in Uganda was truly an amazing experience and helped me to grow personally and professionally.”
Kumar spent eight weeks in Uganda where he assisted with a public health project known as the “Stylish Man – Stylish Living Campaign,” which focuses on HIV awareness and education for men living in rural Ugandan communities. Participation in the health promotion campaign is offered by Daemen in collaboration with the Rakai Health Sciences Program, an effort that includes research, services, and education in HIV and reproductive health.
According to Justine Tutuska, chair of the Health Promotion Department, who is involved in coordinating Uganda experiences for Daemen students and accompanied Kumar, “Participating in this extended service learning opportunity helps students make a connection between what they learn in the classroom with real-life experiences and gain a cultural sensitivity that will make them better public health professionals. Our goal is for students to be actively engaged in experiences that will build their competencies and talents that will prepare them for professional success.”
Dr. Whitney Mendel, assistant professor of public health, who also traveled to Uganda, notes that this experience allows Daemen students to explore a new culture and expose them to a different country while also working in their field of study.
“With this international service learning experience, we have created a uniquely rich hands-on learning opportunity that greatly benefits our students and expands their knowledge outside the classroom,” said Mendel.
In addition to the first project, Kumar visited Bethlehem Parent’s School and Orphanage that serves as a primary school and orphanage to more than 560 students. At the school, he educated students on HIV prevention and strategies and assisted with a health education program targeted to female students.
“It was exciting to see first-hand how what I’m learning through lectures and textbooks is applied to real-life scenarios,” he said. “Beyond being exposed to a new culture, going to Uganda enabled me to develop tangible skills such as learning how to mobilize community members, creating health surveys, collecting data, and leading lectures.”
As he finishes his graduate studies, Kumar reflected on the value and importance of all his international experiences, including Thailand, Poland, and the Dominican Republic.
“These opportunities have really built my confidence and abilities in pursuing my professional goals and put me on the path to securing a position with the Peace Corps that I will start after I graduate from the MPH program this year,” said Kumar.
Picture at right are: Justine Tutuska, Lumeshwar Kumar, and Dr. Whitney Mendel.