This article previously appeared on News@Northeastern. It was written by Emily Arnsten.
While visiting an underfunded hospital in Ethiopia's capital, Kerry Eller was shocked, not by a lack of medical equipment, as one might expect, but by the surplus. Piles of useless medical devices accumulated through years of misguided donations lined the hallways.
“There was no film to put in the X-ray machines. There were no keys to unlock the infusion pumps. There were no training manuals to teach people how to use the devices,” she explains.
Originally, Eller thought she might become a doctor. But while studying bioengineering at Northeastern and working with the club, Innovators for Global Health, she realized she could have a greater impact on the field of medicine if she could improve the tools doctors use instead.
“Being a doctor, you can only help one person at a time,” she says. “But being able to give doctors the tools they need to treat people, that could potentially solve a much bigger problem in global health.”
Eller's dedication to global health has earned her the Harold D. Hodgkinson Award, one of Northeastern's highest awards for academics and experiential performance. She is one of three graduating seniors to receive the award, along with Connor Holmes and Abigale Purvis.
Like Eller, Holmes also was selected for the award because of his commitment to improving global health systems. As a health science major and a member of the advocacy group, Partners in Health Engage, Holmes has dedicated his academic career to improving health services for marginalized communities around the world.
Holmes always knew he wanted to work in health sciences, but joining Northeastern's chapter of Partners in Health Engage during his first week of school solidified the decision and helped him gain some perspective in the field.
“I had a very simple, almost ‘white savior' idea that I wanted to work in other countries and help people,” Holmes says. “But it was Partners in Health that really reoriented my understanding and made me realize that as a white American man, maybe I wasn't the best person to go in and fix things, but instead I could help redistribute resources and empower communities to make changes for themselves.”
While studying abroad in India, Holmes attended a presentation about LGBTQ rights, during which a transgender woman explained the oppression she faced in India.
The presentation was pivotal for Holmes, who realized soon after that he wanted to focus on improving health systems for queer people around the world. “It's very personal for me as a queer man,” he says. “I want to use my skills to help people in my community.”
As an international business student, Purvis doesn't have a background in health systems like Eller or Holmes. But similar to the other award recipients, she prioritizes social responsibility in her field. Purvis was especially influenced by the Social Enterprise Institute at Northeastern, a program that teaches students about sustainable and ethical business practices.
During her time at Northeastern, Purvis also became vegan. But cutting animal products from her grocery list was more than just a change in diet. Purvis is passionate about sustainable food systems and hopes one day to apply socially responsible business models to the food industry.
Purvis was introduced to the food industry during her first co-op at iCater, a nonprofit organization that provides meals for homeless people in Boston. “Looking back on it, I was working so closely with the kitchen and learning so many food-service skills,” she says. The organization also teaches homeless people to cook and helps them apply for food-service jobs.
At her second co-op, Purvis worked on the other end of the food chain, on a farm in Ecuador, where she learned age-old agriculture practices that have been used in the Americas for centuries.
“Long term, my goal is to work at the intersection of climate change and food systems using the experience I've gained as an international business student and through my co-ops,” she says.