‘I Made a Difference’: UT Students Reflect on RAM Trip, Prepare for Next

 

KNOXVILLE — One UT student helped translate to Spanish-speaking students. Others helped pull teeth and make eyeglasses. Others greeted patients, helped with paperwork and directed clinic traffic.

Late last month — merely a week into their freshmen year of classes at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville — 15 students traveled to St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, just outside New Orleans, to assist Remote Area Medical (RAM). They were accompanied by several upperclassmen, student staff members and Provost Susan Martin.

This weekend, another 13 first-year students will be traveling to assist with another RAM clinic in Cleveland, Tenn.

The New Orleans trip was an extension of the Life of the Mind program, a component of Ready for the World, the university’s international and intercultural initiative. Through Life of the Mind, all freshmen are asked to read a common book during the summer, submit a creative response to the text and participate in discussion sessions during the first week of classes. This year’s book is “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Tracy Kidder’s best-selling story of Dr. Paul Farmer, who founded Partners in Health and has done extensive work to fight tuberculosis, AIDS and other illnesses in Haiti, Peru and Russia.

The upcoming trip was planned by the instructors of two First Year Studies 129 classes — Dr. Paul Erwin, director of UT’s Department of Public Health, and Sally McMillan, vice provost for academic affairs. Both have incorporated “service learning” as part of their classes and have encouraged their students to directly engage their local community with the values they are learning in the classroom.

In addition to students from the two FYS 129 classes, five students who went on the New Orleans trip are also going to Cleveland because they want to help with another RAM clinic.

“This year’s Life of the Mind book is about one man who has made — and continues to make — a tremendous impact on the world by giving of himself,” said Provost Susan Martin, whose office oversees the program. “These trips not only elaborate on the book’s theme, but also emphasize the importance of service learning. The RAM experience gives our students a chance to learn by giving of themselves. It broadens their horizons and gives them insight into what it means to be a Volunteer.”

Students on the New Orleans trip said the experience helped them forge friendships, discover more about careers they might enjoy and gave them a great sense of personal accomplishment.

“I am not saying that my first class was not important, or attending my first game was not mind blowing, but this trip really helped me figure myself out,” freshman Emily Kennedy said. “Going into this trip, I was just another freshman without a major trying to make friends. … Coming back, I have made friendships and life choices I thought would never come so easily. I went into the trip wanting to be a missionary who might someday work with doctors. I came out of the trip strongly considering pre-med.”

Marianela D’Aprile said she spent most of her time translating for Spanish speakers.

“I feel arrogant saying this, but it’s possible that, without my help, it would have been virtually impossible for these people to receive the aid they needed and to understand what their health problems were and what they needed to do,” she said. “I also felt as if my being there made them feel more comfortable and less like strangers or foreigners in the clinic.”

Mary Nethaway helped make glasses during the RAM trip to New Orleans.

“I can’t even begin to describe the joy that our patients had when picking up their glasses; for some that meant being able to finally see clearly for the first time in years. It changed my life just to see the look on their faces and to receive hugs and praises for helping them see,” she said. “Volunteering with Remote Area Medical was one of the most fulfilling things I have done with my life thus far. I know I’m still young, but the sense of purpose I received from helping hundreds of people already made me feel like I made a difference in the world.”

Provost Martin, who accompanied the students to New Orleans, said these RAM trips provide valuable lessons that build upon what students learn in the classroom.

“The Cleveland trip, like the New Orleans trip, will give this a group of students the chance to experience another place, another culture and circumstances very different from what they might be accustomed to,” she said.

In Cleveland, the students will work from 5:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the weekend RAM clinic, directing traffic, registering patients and making eyeglasses. Thousands of patients are expected to visit the clinic during their stay.

RAM is a nonprofit, volunteer, airborne relief corps that provides free health, dental and eye care, veterinary services, and technical and educational assistance to people in remote areas of the United States and the world.

Students going on the Cleveland trip are Ellen Bier of Johnson City, Tenn; Madison Bishop of Savannah, Tenn.; Meagan Castelow of Colllierville, Tenn.; Phillip Goldfarb of Baltimore; Sam Gosey of Johnson City, Tenn; Bethany Jones of Knoxville, Tenn; Emily Kennedy of Kingsport, Tenn; Kelsey Murphy of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Brandon Parkison of Memphis; Brian Payne of Tullahoma; (Barbara) Briana Phillips of Johnson City, Tenn.; Michael Porter of Bartlett, Tenn; and Cody Walker of Columbia, Tenn.

Kennedy, Murphy, Phillips and Walker also went on the New Orleans trip. They will be accompanied by McMillan and provost’s office staff members Craig Bleakney and Drew Webb.

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)

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