Ryan always knew that he would wind up in healthcare. He saw himself majoring in biology and heading to medical school after graduation. He decided upon Allegheny for its strong science programs and liberal arts teaching methods.
During his sophomore year, he discovered that a committee of faculty members was working to propose Global Health Studies as a new major. As he learned more about global health as a discipline, he was inspired to expand his academic path to include a self-designed, second major in Global Health and Development.
“I was always interested in microbiology, bacteria, and viruses. As I started to take global health courses, I began learning about those organisms in context,” he said. “This challenged me to not think strictly in one discipline, but to consider the social science, environmental impacts, and other factors that shape a disease and its end results.”
As he progressed through the program, his experiences were applied to the curricular planning for the new major, which made its debut among Allegheny’s academic offerings in Fall 2013.
Ryan combined his interests in biology and global health to develop his Senior Comp, which he presented at the Johns Hopkins Undergraduate Public Health Symposium.
“During my sophomore year, I was involved with an ongoing series of projects looking at H. ducreyi, the causative agent of chancroid. These projects were looking to use a plant compound as a low-cost treatment for this bacterial infection, which would be especially effective in its reservoir, specifically female sex workers in Kenya. I started looking into it, first biologically. As my global health experience grew, I was challenged to think about this infection beyond the basic science. I began to wonder about the social structures, the reasons behind the infection affecting Kenyan sex workers so disproportionately. My results started to surprise me. I cared less about the bacteria and more about this vulnerable population. Bacteria move in microns, but people move in miles. The bacteria weren’t traveling to sex worker populations with intent, so we shouldn’t necessarily treat it as such. The greatest impact in improving treatment for the infection would come from de-stigmatizing these populations and changing how society views them.”
During his time at Allegheny, he put his growing knowledge of global health issues into practice as a community health coach and founder of a patient-focused non-profit organization, called “I Bear Gifts,” that works in conjunction with the Meadville Medical Center.
“My Allegheny experience ended up being about challenging my thought process. Education is often about facts. At Allegheny, I learned that real life doesn’t delineate things so neatly. I can cite an experience with health coaching as the epitome of this process. I was working with a patient on the road to recovery. I thought that there was a clear path to normalcy and that we were making good progress. Unfortunately, during the recovery period, the patient was diagnosed with a new illness. We were thrown into unfamiliar territory where the road was hazy and answers were conditional. This experience instilled in me that I cannot stop questioning the way things are because not doing so would leave me unprepared to understand the winding path that life actually is.”
Ryan begins his Masters of Public Health with a certificate in Global Health at Columbia University this fall.
“I still have quite a bit to learn and this is a great opportunity to explore the field further. In the future, I would like to continue working on projects similar to my Senior Comp, but more directly. Similar to my time at Allegheny, I’m not entirely sure of where I will end up – that will be largely dictated by my experience.”