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    Maureen Johnson will spend a year in Lima, Peru, on a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Southwestern student will spend a year in Peru as ambassador for Rotary International

Southwestern student and pre-med major Maureen Johnson has received an Ambassadorial Scholarship from the Rotary Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Rotary International. The Ambassadorial Scholarship program was founded in 1947 and provides academic year scholarships for undergraduate, graduate and professional members to study abroad and act as goodwill ambassadors in their host country.

Johnson will spend a year in Lima, Peru, which was her first choice for an assignment. She will head there in June 2011. In addition to studying full-time at a university in Lima, she will make presentations to at least 12 different Rotary Clubs in Peru and will also make presentations to Rotary Clubs in the United States before and after her trip to Peru.

Before attending Southwestern, Johnson earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Rice University and her master’s degree in archaeology from the University of Edinburgh. While at Edinburgh, she had the chance to participate in an archaeological dig on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, known for its well-preserved archaeological remains, including the Tomb of the Kings, which dates as far back as the 4th century BCE. 

On a morning jog around the island, Johnson was bitten by a venomous viper snake. She hitchhiked to the nearest hospital, where a local doctor administered anti-venom and saved her life. This near-death experience, coupled with her previous study of the interaction between insect-borne diseases and human populations through time, stirred an interest in the medical field that led Johnson to take an EMT course upon completing her master’s degree. Her intuition confirmed, Johnson enrolled at Southwestern to take the courses she needs to apply to medical school.

In fall 2010, Johnson began work at the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin, where she conducts HIV consulting under the guidance of Felipe Rocha, manager of the Health Communication and Community Engagement Group in the agency’s TB/HIV/STD Unit. She also works one day a week in the Infectious Disease division at Scott and White Hospital in Temple.

Her interest now lies in mathematical epidemiology, where she examines how diseases are transmitted and what methods should be used to prevent them. From her studies of both anthropology and medicine, Johnson has formulated a unique perspective on healthcare.

“My vision is to be part of a health community that is integrative − one that uses everyone’s strengths in order to address the environmental, social and mental aspects of health,” she said.

As a Southwestern student, Johnson has been very active in Rotaract, the arm of Rotary International for people ages 18 to 30. She and three other students − Alexis Kroft, Cameron Navarro and Luis ‘Fernie’ Reyes − initiated the Stand With Haiti Coalition and led the fundraising effort that benefited Partners in Health in Haiti, an organization that focuses on health through community building. Gene Davenport, the education consultant at the Rotary Club of Georgetown, said that Johnson’s commitment to service is shown by the leadership she has demonstrated through activities in Rotaract.

“Maureen impressed the District Committee such that she was selected as the solo Ambassadorial Scholar from central Texas for the 2011-2012 school year,” Davenport said. “We anticipate that she will be an excellent ambassador for our country and do well in her academic pursuits.”

Johnson’s local Rotary chapter in Temple sponsored her as an ambassadorial candidate. “Maureen won out over six other very qualified applicants,” said Judy Duer, international chair of the Rotary Club of Temple. “We were impressed by her leadership role in service activities at both the community and international level as well as her clear sense of her goals and desire to provide service in her future career.” 

Johnson said she applied for a position in Peru because the sister organization of Partners in Health, Socios En Salud, is located in Lima, Peru. She hopes to volunteer there while she is in Peru. Johnson said she was particularly interested in the way Socios En Salud has effectively used structural interventions and community involvement to treat multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.

After exploring educational options in Lima, she also discovered that Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH) is home to the Alexander von Humbolt Instituto de Medicina Tropical and has several research collaborations and agreements with universities specializing in infectious disease and tropical medicine in the United States and England. She hopes to work on a cross-institutional project that can be of benefit to researchers who are participating in multi-country collaborations and link her experience in Peru to her future study of medicine in the United States. 

The fact that Peru has a rich archaeological heritage and a gorgeous mountainous landscape didn’t hurt either.

−        Shannon Hicks