Five students from UTHealth School of Public Health named Schweitzer fellows

HOUSTON – Five students from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health have received the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship for the Houston-Galveston area.

The purpose of the fellowship is to continue the legacy of famed physician-humanitarian Albert Schweitzer — pairing students with mentors, field experts and community sites to meet vital local health needs with an immediate and lasting impact in the Houston-Galveston area. Since 2008, more than 100 Albert Schweitzer Fellows have completed projects in the Houston-Galveston area.

Beginning in April 2017, the fellows designed and implemented a 200-hour community project that provided a direct service to an underserved population.

The 2017-2018 Schweitzer Fellows from UTHealth School of Public Health are as follows.

Photo of Amber Ansari outsideAmber Ansari

Ansari, an M.P.H./M.S.W. dual-degree student, works at Angela House as the aftercare coordinator. Angela House is a transitional, residential facility aimed at empowering women to break the cycle of incarceration and to help them successfully reintegrate back into society. In her role, Ansari works closely with graduates and former residents to provide support and assistance in securing housing, employment and access to healthcare.

"I'm constantly humbled and inspired by the women at Angela House," Ansari says. "They embody the Schweitzer spirit of service and compassion, and I'm honored to learn from them on what it means to be a devoted member of the community." 

Photo of Joanna HawkinsJoanna Hawkins

Hawkins, an M.P.H. student studying health promotion and behavioral sciences, also works with residents at Angela House who are overcoming experiences of trauma and addiction. In her role, Hawkins’ goal is to reduce recidivism by promoting program adherence. She is achieving this by improving women’s overall experience at Angela House. Hawkins has worked closely with residents and staff to optimize the entry process for new residents and now serves on the committee she launched to plan enrichment activities that will boost morale, improve residents’ quality of life, and increase cultural exposure. She also builds personal bonds with residents, teaches classes on cultivating a healthy relationship with oneself and with others, and creates opportunities for the current and former residents to share their wisdom with other women newer in their recovery journey. 

"Being a Schweitzer fellow has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," says Hawkins. "It has provided an excellent opportunity to develop friendships and a sense of community with other service-oriented health professionals, and to receive guidance and support in planning, implementing, and evaluating a service project for a vulnerable population that I care about. And the impact, for both the fellows and the people we serve, is life-changing.”

Photo of Jennifer Holcomb in front of a colorful wallJennifer Holcomb

Holcomb, a Dr.P.H. student in community health practice, works with the Montrose Center. The Montrose Center provides behavioral health services, case management, and wellness programs to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and communities in Houston/Harris County. After conducting numerous focus groups and interviews at the Montrose Center, Holcomb focuses on delivering health education seminars around sexuality and spirituality, chair yoga, meditation and breathing, and gratitude journaling.

"My experience in the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and time with these communities has been invaluable," says Holcomb. "I look forward to hearing stories from individuals who are many times overlooked and silenced in the LGBTQ+ community and communities in general. Issues in aging are frequently overlooked in service and research. LGBT+ older adults have been fighting for the rights, health, and safety of LGBTQ+ individuals for longer than many of us have been alive. Their work led to the rights we have today and inspire me to continue serving LGBTQ+ communities through community service, advocacy, and community based research."

Photo of Sanjana Puri outside the School of Public Health near the parkSanjana Puri

Puri, an M.P.H. student studying management, policy and community health, works at Daya. Daya is a non-profit organization that supports South Asian women, their children and families who are trying to break the cycle of domestic and sexual violence and reclaim their lives. In her role, Puri seeks to improve prevention and awareness of mental health in the South Asian community. With the help of her colleagues at Daya, Puri created a two-part seminar series focusing on common community struggles and prevention and techniques. Puri has also created a stress and wellbeing curriculum to implement at William P. Clements High School in Sugar Land, Texas, which has notoriously high levels of stress amongst its students. Through these projects as well as sustainable materials and brochures, she hopes to empower a kinder and more loving South Asian community. 

"The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship has been amazing; from connecting with other helpful, inspiring, and dedicated fellows, to being able to help others through my own vision and creativity, I have loved every step," says Puri. "With so much support and so many opportunities to grow as a leader of health, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a career involving social determinants and helping others reach their full potential."

Jose Dominguez

Jose Dominguez is the fifth Albert Schweitzer Fellow from the School of Public Health this year. He was unable to be reached at the time this story was published.

Fellowship advisor

Vanessa Schick, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Management, Policy and Community Health, serves as the faculty advisor for Ansari, Hawkins and Holcomb. Some of the service project proposals for the fellows were written in Schick's "Enhancing Cultural Humility through Social Justice: Working with Diverse Communities" class. Houston campus students are encouraged to write a Schweitzer Fellowship application as the final project in that course.

"The fellowship is a great opportunity for students in public health," says Schick. "It gives them the connections and support to create meaningful, sustainable change in some of Houston's most vulnerable communities. Although students are encouraged to reflect on their individual skillset to identify a project, they are required to listen to and respond to the needs of the community. I feel fortunate to have been able to support such wonderful students."

Eugene Toy, M.D., assistant dean for educational programs and professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, serves as Puri’s academic mentor for the Schweitzer Fellowship.

Submit an application

To submit an application, please visit the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship website here. The application deadline is 11:59 p.m. CST on Thursday, February 15, 2018. For more information, please contact Gabrielle Hansen, Ph.D., at Gabrielle.Hansen@bcm.edu.

Written by Kori Gould