By Alvin G. Thomas
Mr. Thomas is a second-year Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) student at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research explores the intersection of global health delivery and technology with a focus on HIV care and prevention. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in 2014 with a B.S. in Chemistry-Engineering and an academic minor in the interdisciplinary study of Poverty and Human Capability.
Thomas (W&L 2014) helped implement a study with a novel approach to HIV care and prevention in Uganda.
Cliff graduated from college with a major in mathematics and a 4.0 GPA. Shortly after graduation he was involved in a hit-and-run incident that left him with a broken leg and back injuries. Cliff had no family or health insurance to rely on; he had no safety net. That event began a series of events that led to over twenty years of homelessness. Cliff told me his story during the fall of 2010 on a week-long service trip to DC for incoming freshmen at Washington and Lee University. His story and the stories of others at the National Coalition for the Homeless left an imprint on my soul.
After that trip I decided to take the Interdisciplinary Introduction to Poverty Studies course. I quickly bought into the co-curricular approach of the Shepherd Program. In addition to taking additional coursework as part of the interdisciplinary minor, I served as a Bonner AmeriCorps member and participated in the Shepherd Consortium’s summer internship program.
Motivated by my experiences in DC, I sought an internship with the PACT Therapeutic Nursery in Baltimore. The Therapeutic Nursery assists homeless infants and toddlers and their families. It serves as a day-care and Early Head Start program. While our children explored their little worlds with ample curiosity, completely oblivious to the cards stacked against them, the PACT Therapeutic Nursery team battled on multiple fronts.
“… our primary goal is to learn how to translate evidence-based interventions into scalable solutions,” writes Thomas. “I find this cycle of translating knowledge into practice into new knowledge both hopeful and exciting.”
Attachment-based therapeutic programming, our core intervention, wove into every activity, but we also addressed speech delays, inadequate nutrition, housing, and other health concerns. My time with PACT left me with a mess of emotions: sadness, anger, and restlessness were most dominant. While I had always had a desire to help others, my Shepherd Consortium internship transformed that aspiration into commitment. My career trajectory shifted to accommodate my new dedication to social justice.
It only took three years for me to return to Baltimore, this time as a graduate student in global health. My co-curricular study of poverty as an undergraduate allowed me to explore a number of issues in a variety of settings including Rwanda where I worked as a biomedical engineer in a district hospital. My heart and my head had found a common passion in issues of global health.
My current work investigates the intersection of technology and global health delivery. My research recently took me to Uganda where I helped implement a study with a novel approach to HIV care and prevention. Our research trains community health workers to use a smartphone app and motivational interviewing to encourage individuals to utilize HIV care and prevention services in a highly endemic region of rural Uganda. This study falls under the category of implementation science – our primary goal is to learn how to translate evidence-based interventions into scalable solutions. Implementation science research closely resembles the structure of my co-curricular experience with the Shepherd Program. I often took lessons from the classroom and applied them at my service sites and vice versa. I find this cycle of translating knowledge into practice into new knowledge both hopeful and exciting.
The Shepherd Consortium plays a crucial role in galvanizing a new generation of academics, advocates, and professionals committed to addressing poverty and its multifaceted causes. I hope to use my career in global health research to design programs that help those most disadvantaged by diseases of poverty. The lessons learned from my experiences with the Shepherd Program continue to inform my career and personal development. The work of my mentors and colleagues from the the Shepherd Program continue to inspire my pursuit.