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Featured Student: Kate Adkins '11

March 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm
By Nick Welna

 Kate Adkins '11

Kate Adkins '11: Anthropology of Health and Illness, Immunology, and Ethics of Civic Engagement  

Kate Adkins's work on public health projects started in an unexpected way: tutoring. "I really wanted to be in the community," the senior Biology major recalls. "I was lucky enough to do my work study through the 'America Reads and Counts' program, working with students in the Northfield public schools." She had her first opportunity to connect her community involvement with her academic work during her sophomore year, in professor Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg's "Anthropology of Health and Illness" class. Angie Koch was the director the HealthFinders Collaborative, a free local clinic focused on providing quality, accessible, and culturally sensitive health care to low-income and uninsured residents of Rice County, and she came to speak to students about the course's academic civic engagement option. "I hadn't known about Health Finders before," says Adkins, "but talking with the clinic director got me really interested in their work."

For the course, she ended up doing extensive interviews with HealthFinders' clients. Her research focused on the impact of the clinic's community-based educational programs in the Latino community, and to learn more she had to organize an event to speak with community members. "I was really nervous, because I had been calling some people to get them to come, and I had no idea if anyone would show up," Adkins remembers. "Certain kinds of service projects can start with high hopes that go unmet." But Adkins's event surpassed even her highest hopes. Community members she hadn't even met decided to attend; the people she invited told their friends, who were excited to share their thoughts on local health services. Discovering the usefulness of the community's knowledge, Adkins then had the opportunity to present her research to the HealthFinders board of directors, who were eager to learn more about the impact of the clinic.

After that positive first experience, Adkins became a volunteer with HealthFinders and has continued with academic civic engagement classes. She is currently taking biology professor Debby Walser-Kuntz's Immunology course, as well as sociology professor and ACE director Adrienne Falcon's "Ethics of Civic Engagement." For Immunology, Adkins and her classmates have again partnered with HealthFinders, this time researching biology journals to for information to create a public awareness campaign about diabetes. Returning as a senior to work with the clinic she had discovered as a sophomore was hardly a coincidence. “I was very intentional about doing a project that would build on what I had done before,” Adkins points out. The continuity allowed her to build on established relationships and draw on prior experiences, even as she developed a new project in a different academic context.

In addition to finding ways to connect her current Immunology project to her past civic engagement, Adkins is thinking carefully about how to learn from and continue with her involvement in the community. Ethics of Civic Engagement provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their community involvement, why they do it and what it means. "Medicine," she explains, "is community-based work to apply helpful scientific knowledge to the lives of those who don't spend their days studying biology." Academic civic engagement has helped her discover ways to use her love of biology beyond Carleton, and she is now preparing to go to medical school so she can become a primary care provider in under-served communities. "I've had so many unique learning experiences through ACE," Adkins says. "Everyone should do it."