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Tufts Medical Alumni Association drives funding for Community Service Learning projects

For teenagers, peer pressure is the strongest force on earth.

This was one of three lessons Emily Frank, M15, learned when she taught middle school life science in California. (The other two: kids can do anything in a structured environment, and they do care about their health.) So when it came time for her to fulfill her Community Service Learning (CSL) requirement at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM), she followed her “inner teacher” to English High School in Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Frank founded the Health Impact Partnership (HIP) at English High two years ago. Fellow volunteer Kevin Baier, M15, describes the school as “a tough place,” where many students don’t care, don’t want to be there, or are recent immigrants facing a huge language barrier. “They need extra support to inspire them to commit to learning.”

Ambassadors for change

Thanks to HIP, a dozen TUSM students head to English High once a week to help adolescents research and address community health issues. The teens in turn have become health ambassadors, organizing events like a recent information session on obesity, diabetes, and healthy eating, featuring excerpts from Morgan Spurlock’s film, Super Size Me. They ended the session with a survey to see if their classmates had changed their attitudes toward fast food. Among the results: 25 percent said they “would not continue” and 75 percent said they “would maybe stop” eating unhealthy foods.

The CSL requirement is more meaningful than simply volunteering, Baier says: “It’s directed at making sustainable contributions to the community.” Having mentored 17-year-old Keysa Salado for the past two years, he can see the impact firsthand.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Salado moved to the United States and began learning English just two years ago—but her confidence was clear at a recent gathering at TUSM, where she presented HIP’s Super Size Me survey results before a packed classroom of medical students and professionals.

“The most gratifying thing has been watching her grow,” Baier says. Salado is not only making presentations; she’s helping her fellow English learners when they struggle. “I’m changing,” she says. “Slowly, but I am changing. This has been a big help.”

The driving force

The Tufts Medical Alumni Association (TMAA) is a driving force of funding for Community Service Learning projects like the Health Impact Partnership (HIP) at English High School. Thanks to contributing members of the TMAA, the association is able to make annual donations to the Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) student activities council, which then allocates financial support to HIP and other student experiences that are vital to a TUSM education.

In 2012, thanks to funding by the TMAA, a group of TUSM students traveled to Guatemala and worked with local communities to address maternal stress in poverty. Other groups spoke to underserved populations in San Juan and Nicaragua about the easiest ways to prevent diabetes, and worked on public health initiatives in Boston, among many other projects.

“The TMAA is directly supporting students as they become global active citizens,” says TMAA President Laurence Bailen, M93. ”Our alumni members play a principal role in helping to train the next generation of health-care leaders.”