Student Fellow Focuses on the Social Side of Health

This summer a good number of students sought out health-related internships that took place outside the hospital or doctor’s clinic and instead were situated within the community. Several were supported financially with fellowships from Bowdoin. Below is a brief description of one student’s summer position, supported by a grant from Bowdoin Career Planning’s funded internship program.

Rowan Staley ’18
Major: Neuroscience, religion
Grant: Preston Public Interest Career Fund
Internship: Preble Street Maine Hunger Initiative, Portland, Maine

Last January, Rowan Staley participated in a Bowdoin Alternative Winter Break program that looked at human trafficking and poverty in Maine. This made Staley curious about one of the organizations most actively helping trafficking victims, Preble Street. For 25 years, Executive Director Mark Swann ’84 has led Preble Street, a nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

“I knew that hunger and poverty were big problems, but it blew my mind just how great the hunger crisis has grown in the US,” Staley said. One of her responsibilities this summer has been to deliver food to children at USDA-approved meal sites throughout Portland. The federal government partners with local agencies to bring free lunches to children whose families are not able to provide regular meals during the summer. During the school year, these children typically receive subsidized meals at their schools.

Staley served meals with Sophie Cowen ’18, who had a McKeen Center Community Matters fellowship this summer to also intern at Preble Street. Between 10 and 20 children regularly showed up to receive the lunches. After the children finished eating, Cowen and Staley read books to them, did crafts, or played nutrition-themed games.

Another project Staley and Cowen worked on together was running focus groups with people who regularly use food pantries. The two students were asked to find out what barriers low-income people face in obtaining food and how they felt the USDA’s food assistance program, SNAP, was working for them. This experience gave Staley and Cowen a close-up view of people’s paths to poverty.

“Poverty is not having a buffer,” Staley said. “People might be leading successful lives but then something goes wrong, like they develop diabetes or have an accident, and there’s no room to deal with these things.”

Staley said this summer has made her more interested in incorporating public health into her future plans. She had thought she wanted to attend medical school to become a clinical doctor, but she is now also considering studying public health. “Public health organizations can be effective and make a difference in people’s lives,” she observed. She added that she’s also noted “a shift among physicians and healthcare providers to recognize the social aspects of health.”