The only student from Hyderabad, India to have been accepted to the prestigious Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, Soumayani Ghoshal spent this fall semester living and learning at Chatham. As the semester comes to a close, we asked her about her experience of being part of the Chatham community while representing India and how she qualified for the opportunity.
Q: What is the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program? A: Global UGRAD is a one-semester scholarship that gives outstanding undergraduate students from around the world the opportunity for non-degree full-time study combined with community service, professional development and cultural enrichment.
This year, there were 22,661 applications from around the world, 250 finalists, five of whom were from India.
Q: What is something you did not expect about Chatham? A: I never expected my classes to be so interesting and interactive. I also did not expect people here to be so warm and welcoming from the very first day. It has just been four months and I have come to call this place home.
Q: Why did you choose to major in journalism? A: I have always been inclined towards writing, and journalism is something I am extremely passionate about. I am majoring in journalism back in my home country with world politics as a minor, so I wanted to learn more about this field in the United States too. This opportunity led me to shadow a journalist at the Pittsburgh Post-gazette, which was very exciting.
Q: What are your future plans? A: I am looking forward to coming back to the United States for a Master’s degree in Investigative Journalism, and I hope to be able to work here someday.
Q: What’s something that you miss about India that you wish could be implemented in the United States? A: Honestly, it’s the other way around. As the semester is almost coming to an end and so is my program, I will miss the fun and engaging activities that Chatham offers to students on a regular basis and wish to implement these in my University back home.
I was also very inspired by students here who make their own financial decisions and work to pay for their college. This is something that we don’t have back home and I wish to do something about that.
It can be hard to access healthcare in Nepal, says Chatham nursing student, Devin Corboy ‘18. “It’s one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s mostly rural, so access is limited by time and terrain. And if it’s not free or almost free, clients just don’t have the resources to pay.” Devin also points to a shortage of providers (“Doctors aren’t well paid—it’s not as prestigious there as it is here. They work around the clock and it’s often necessary for them to hold several positions”) and—literally—energy (“With rolling blackouts, they spend long periods of time without electricity—often 12-14 hours per day.”)
That’s in the best of times.
But on April 25, 2015, Devin woke to news of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal. Approximately 9,000 people were killed and more than 21,000 injured. Devin and his wife had spent time there the previous fall, made friends, and fallen in love with the region. Devin—a student in Chatham’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC—knew that he had to help. Just over two weeks later, a second earthquake killed at least 153 people and injured more than 3,200. That was the day Devin arrived in Nepal.
“In third-world trauma environments, scope of practice is directly proportional to your knowledge and level of comfort.”
His Nepali friends had told him the only way to reliably bring in supplies was to carry them in himself, so he showed up with over 100 pounds of medical supplies. “The airstrip was lined with cargo containers with food and other resources from countries who wanted to help,” he recalls. “But the government couldn’t release the supplies because of their regulation requirements. They had to register it. So much food sent over there never made it to anyone because it went bad.”
“When I arrived, my friend drove me to a community health clinic, where I saw people lined up out the door. Suturing and setting broken bones and dislocated limbs aren’t typical nursing practices in the US, but in third-world trauma environments, your scope of practice is directly proportional to your knowledge and level of comfort,” Devin says. “We worked with the highest degree of sterility possible using the supplies I carried from the US. We worked in the street, day and night, through heat and rain, under temporary tarps and in tents because damage to the hospital made it unsafe. Patients arrived on overcrowded buses. Three people per seat wasn’t infrequent, and you’d see men, women, and children hanging off the roofs.” It wasn’t uncommon for patients to arrive in need of critical treatment due to accidents caused by this method of travel that was both unsafe and unavoidable.
After a couple of weeks, Devin and a guide loaded up five yaks with life-saving provisions and set forth to Thame, a village in the Everest mountain region that had been all but wiped out. They made what was normally a five-day trek to the village in two days, hiking 12-hour days carrying 50-60 pounds of supplies.
When they arrived, they saw that one building was left standing, the medical clinic was gone, and people were living openly on the streets. “It was the monsoon season, cold and rainy,” says Devin. “No one had tents. We spent much of our time passing out temporary shelters and tarps.”
Nepal, Take 2
Devin returned home after just over three weeks, but in November, he and his wife returned to contribute through the All Hands disaster response effort. They were there for almost two months. “I had to delay my entry into the BSN program,” said Devin, “but Chatham said no problem, we’ll contact all your instructors, and we’ll figure it out.”
Much of the work in Devin’s second trip focused on demolition and rebuilding efforts, but it wasn’t long before his medical skills were called into action. The Project Director created the position of First Aid and Medical Curriculum Coordinator for him, and among his initiatives was to bring in anti-venom medicine. In the eight months since the earthquake, snakes—most of which were poisonous—had made their homes in all the debris. “There was a high probability that someone would get bitten and die,” Devin said. He coordinated with project partners in the UK to get the anti-venom. “It took about two and a half weeks for it to get here,” he says. “Meanwhile, we were seeing about six baby snakes each day, and thinking ‘oh boy, where’s Mama?’”
Eventually, Devin wants to open a community health clinic in West Africa. He envisions a solar-powered clinic focused on sustainable community health and education that can also provide emergency medical capabilities. He views his experiences in Nepal as simultaneously good training and a valuable expansion of perspective.
“I saw how spoiled we are,” he says. “I was able to bring over pre-sterilized gauze pads and Nepali healthcare providers couldn’t believe how easy they were to use. The way they’d do it is to cut a piece of gauze, heat it to a temperature that kills bacteria, maybe rest it on dirty pants to fold it, tape it to the wound, if they even had tape. In the U.S., we have all these supplies that don’t even exist in Nepal, and we toss them into the garbage when they fall on the floor or the package doesn’t look right. We treated at least 300 people with supplies equivalent to two days worth of what we throw away here. And the mentality of receiving healthcare here is so different,” Devin continues. “They were so appreciative of every single thing we were able to do. In their eyes, it’s not our duty, and it’s not their right.”
That’s how Jenny Schollaert ’15, describes Chatham University, from which she is set to graduate in three days. “A good shock,” she quickly clarifies. “Because we’re so welcoming and everyone wants you to succeed. And I think it’s that shocking to some people, and they’re like are you really this excited about seeing me succeed? But yes, they are!”
It’s safe to say that in her four years as a double major in English and Women’s Studies, Schollaert did not disappoint. In 2015 alone, she won the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Leader Award, the Excellence in the Humanities Award, the Anne Harris Aronson Prize in English, and was a runner up for the Elva Bell McLin Sigma Tau Delta Senior Scholarship. An incomplete list of her other accomplishments at Chatham includes:
Presented original research or sat on academic panels at 10 conferences across the country
Published an article on the art of Kara Walker in New Errands: The Undergraduate Journal of American Studies
Studied abroad in Cambridge, England
Completed an internship consisting of working with high school girls at The Ellis School, generating and executing lesson plans concerning women’s activism, and a second internship with the League of Women Voters
Served on the University-wide steering committee for the creation of the Women’s Institute in response to the transition to coeducation (as Executive Vice President of Chatham Student Government, a role she held for two years)
Founded and served as President of the Beyond the Page Book Club
Served as Late Night and Traditions Coordinator for the Office of Student Affairs
Worked as a tutor for the PACE Center
“It’s been a great four years. I really sucked the marrow out of it. I got my money’s worth,” Schollaert laughs.
Schollaert—who is from the Pittsburgh area—knew about Chatham because her aunt had gone there “way back,” but it wasn’t until she visited campus that she knew it was for her. To be precise, it wasn’t until Dr. Bill Lenz, Pontius Professor of English, kicked her parents out of his office that she knew it was for her.
“I walked into his office with my parents,” Schollaert recalls. “We chatted for a bit, and then Dr. Lenz said to my parents: ‘You two, go out to the café and have a coffee, this is Jenny’s education; I’m going to talk with her now.’ They balked a bit, but they left, and I was immediately at ease, able to talk so freely with Dr. Lenz about all of these hopes that I had for what I want to accomplish at Chatham.
And the opportunities he presented, the leadership roles—he told me that I can do anything here, that there’s nothing too big. “
Dr. Lenz would prove to be a huge mentor for Schollaert. “I took his Mark Twain seminar during my first year here, and it was an absolute joy,” she says. “I had no idea that this was what English Literature students were capable of, all the things you could do with these words on the page. That seminar gave me the confidence and tools to get really serious about studying literature.” Dr. Lenz was her advisor for all four years, and also chaired her tutorial.
Schollaert names Dr. Lynne Bruckner, Professor of English and Coordinator of the Women’s Studies Department as another major influence during her time here. “She has been fantastic at providing opportunities like an internship at The Ellis School, and since I will have to teach in graduate school, she offered to do an independent study with me, where I learned pedagogical practices and actually took a stab at teaching a class. Does that opportunity even exist elsewhere? Words cannot express the help she’s given me throughout my four years here.”
“The English and Women’s Studies faculty have influenced my thinking in such a huge way,” Schollaert continues. ”I’ll be writing a paper and after each sentence thinking so what would Dr. Lenz , Dr. Bruckner or Dr Prajna (Parasher, Professor of Art, Film and Cultural Studies) think about this. That, I think, is the mark of a really great, really comprehensive education. Even though all these people are so influential, you’ll come up with something that’s completely you.”
“People look at Chatham as that former woman’s college, or Rachel Carson’s alma mater, but what they don’t realize is that we have this huge breadth of faculty and they’re so brilliant and so helpful and you can take a class that’s completely outside your comfort zone and then you you’ll just fall in love with the professor and what they have to offer and then they’ll just be part of your life forever.”
“There’s something magical about Chatham that you don’t see anything else,” says Schollaert. “When your friends come home and talk about their experiences, you think there’s something different about Chatham, something about the way we can get together inside the classroom or outside the classroom and have these conversations that people don’t have often elsewhere. I’m going to miss that. It’ll be interesting to see how the conversations move forward as the transition takes hold. I’m excited for the men to see what we do here.”
Schollaert’s research Schollaert’s main academic interest is the author Willa Cather. She wrote her tutorial on two of Cather’s novels, O Pioneers! and a lesser known work called One of Ours, which was written in the 1920s and has a male protagonist. “For a woman writer to write a war novel with a male protagonist was just phenomenal. She was able to use him to critique the ideals of masculinity that men were forced to live up to, and by the end of the novel, she brings us back to women’s spaces and women’s voices to say that this ideal of masculinity is not serving us well if we don’t have a balance and spectrum of gender identity, instead of forcing male and female ideals into boxes. Throughout history the novel has been viewed just as a war novel, but it does so much more.” Schollaert considers Women’s Studies to be a great complement to the study of English Literature. “We can look at the text through that lens and see why these words were chosen and how they used the stories for a greater purpose.”