United States Provides Blouin Scholars with World View on Water Accessibility, Global Health

With the suspension of international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Walsh’s Blouin Global Scholars initiated new and impactful ways this summer to explore the themes of water accessibility and global health right in their own backyard, the United States. In May, the Blouin Global Scholars led by Associate Dean of Experiential Learning Rachel Hosler, Ed.D. and Director of Global Learning Michael Cinson studied access and equity of water in Arizona, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. This August, Dr. Tracey Herstich and her cohort of students traveled to the U.S/Mexico Border town of Laredo, TX and Navajo Nation to study global health, while Associate Professor of Business Dr. Karen Stock and Associate Professor of Graphic Design Jennifer Vokoun will lead their Blouin students on a domestic experience next spring to study food, hunger and sustainability.

“In a year when global programs have essentially stopped, experiential learning has managed to adapt and reimagine how we can provide our students an experiential program that employs the United Nations sustainable development goals as a foundation for developing a global perspective,” said Dr. Hosler. “I think we have shown that right here in the United States we can build our students’ worldview and examine the challenges we face as a society, with our faith as our guide in facing those challenges.” 

During the May trip experience, the rising senior Blouin Global Scholars traveled to Phoenix, Flagstaff, Boulder City, Lake Havasu City and El Centro. The students studied how Arizona manages the water on the Colorado River and how certain cities are using groundwater and wells to provide access to sustainable water for 100 years in the future. The Blouins met with the Manager of the Hoover Dam and learned about how the Bureau of Reclamation manages the Dam-produced electricity and the water levels from the Colorado River. In El Centro, the students studied the Salton Sea and the agricultural practices in this area. The group also headed to New Orleans to gain a better understanding of the interaction of how water and climate change effect people and our planetat a different perspective on how water is managed in the U.S. The cohort ended their trip in Washington D.C. to learn about policy and advocacy measures protecting our most precious resource with meetings with Representative Anthony Gonzalez’s office and Senator Robert Portman’s office to learn to advocate for sustainable water practices in the U.S. 

“Water is so vital to maintaining a healthy life and learning about access, or lack thereof, worldwide is essential to taking the first step into establishing access for everyone,” said Blouin Scholar Claire Spettel, a senior nursing major. “One of the highlights for me was visiting The Grand Canyon. This also fit perfectly into our theme because water is what carved the canyon in the first place. I often get caught up in the healthcare focus of water, because that is what I am most interested in, and forget all the other things that water does for everyone.” 

The second group of Blouin Global Scholars traveled in July to Navajo Nation and Laredo, Texas, to study global healthcare with their cohort leader Tracey M. Herstich. 

“As a Blouin faculty member, I get to share my passion for global health and connect with students in a deeper ways since we work together as a cohort over four years,” said Herstich. “During our trip experience, our group began our trip in Laredo, Texas, where we studied how a border community can impact the health of vulnerable populations entering our country from the southern border.” 

The students had the opportunity to meet with the Catholic Charites, Casa de Misercordia domestic violence shelter, Mercy Clinic, Border Patrol, Laredo Health Department and other local community members. The common theme among the organizations is that those entering the U.S. from the southern border deserve to be treated with dignity and in a manner that will not put them in immediate danger with lifelong impacts on their health, wellbeing and families.

From Texas, the Blouins moved on to Gallup, New Mexico, where they partnered with the Diocese of Gallup to learn about Navajo Nation and studied the history and culture of the Native people in the region. According to Herstich, understanding this history is fundamental for exploring health disparities and environmental injustices that have led to significant health conditions including exposure to uranium, high rates of alcoholism, sexual abuse, obesity and elevated blood pressure (due to cultural food choices) within these communities.

“We wanted to provide our students with a meaningful experience where they could see the effects of global health right here in the United States,” said Director of Global Learning Michael Cinson, a participant who was instrumental in planning both Blouin trips. “The past two years, this cohorthas been studying global health on a more local and regional level, and so this experience allowed them to see it from another perspective.”

The Blouins had the opportunity to visit the Red Water Pond Community and Superfund site where the largest radioactive spill in U.S. history occurred.  They met with community members in this region who were young children during this spill and heard stories of their perseverance and legacy that continues today.

“My saying throughout this trip was ‘We came. We listened. We learned,’” said Herstich. “I believe listening to the individuals living and serving the communities we visited was making our classroom work come alive. We weren’t just reading about global health; we were seeing it alive in our backyards.”