Alex Yaw, '14: Promoting Healthy Lives, Transforming Hers

Alex Yaw, '14: Promoting Healthy Lives, Transforming Hers

Spending a portion of the break between fall and spring semester in Honduras with Global Medical Brigades each of the last three years has given Alex Yaw the perspective to overcome the most difficult day.

The second baseman for the Albion College softball team is quick to say she wouldn’t be happy if she didn’t produce a base hit in a doubleheader, but the conditions she has witnessed while working to provide health care and development assistance to poor communities in Central America are enough to cure any negative feelings.

“I planned for my experience with Global Medical Bridges to be a résumé booster,” Yaw said. “I would go on this trip, it would be great for medical school applications, and I would move on with my life and do X, Y and Z to get to medical school.

“Going on the first trip [as a sophomore] was the most amazing experience,” Yaw added. “It is so grounding to go somewhere and realize how much you have—even being able to take a hot shower or brush your teeth with water from the sink. It takes you back to realizing how wonderful everything we have is. It has helped me grow as a person to realize that what I’m dealing with in the moment isn’t part of the grand scheme of the world. My petty problems are nothing compared to what people live with.”

Despite language barriers with native residents, Yaw has been impressed by the gratitude shown for the assistance she and her co-workers have provided. On a typical brigade, teams drive to communities to set up clinics providing access to doctors, a pharmacy and health education to children.

The experiences have been so transformative that Yaw says her closest friends on campus are those with whom she has worked alongside. She has since founded Albion’s chapter of Public Health Brigades and served as the organization’s first president.

“I like the [Global Medical Brigades’] goal—to leave the communities and bring aid to other countries—so when the entire holistic model is implemented in an area, the entire program can move to another area,” Yaw said.

“Taking preventative measures is the goal [of Public Health Brigades],” she added. “It’s to help in more sustainable ways than coming in for a week and giving medication. If we change the entire living situation, that will eliminate the other issues they have. This year we participated in a pilot architectural brigade where we helped build a medical center.”

Global Medical Brigades and Public Health Brigades are just two of the student organizations to which Yaw gives her time and effort. She also holds leadership positions as a senior resident assistant and as president of Order of Omega, the leadership fraternity for Greek organizations. She formerly served as vice president of education for Global Medical Brigades; secretary for Phi Epsilon Kappa, the fraternity for individuals interested in health industry careers; vice president of member education for Delta Gamma sorority; and treasurer and vice president of student ambassadors. She has also been involved in Relay for Life, Alpha Chi Sigma and Psi Chi. 

A detour from pre-med

Yaw changed her academic course when the liberal arts curriculum exposed her to psychology. While she minors in cell and molecular biology and chemistry, she is weighing her options between moving on to graduate school in neuroscience or volunteering in an organization such as the Peace Corps.

As she reaches the midpoint of her final semester at Albion, Yaw is completing work on a thesis project she launched her junior year that examines the relationship between sleep, nutrition and athletic performance.

“I’m looking at sleep architecture and the kinds of interactions that could be having with nutrition choices and exercise,” Yaw explained. “Sleep architecture encompasses how much time one spends in each of the stages of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep, how many cycles the subject goes through, and sleep latency —the amount of time it takes the subject to get to sleep.

“I talked with [psychology professor] Tammy Jechura to find our mutual research interests and we came up with a project,” Yaw added.

Her project is being supported by the College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity. Through FURSCA, Yaw learned she enjoyed the research process—everything from reading for literature reviews to writing the proposal to the Institutional Review Board for project approval and data analysis.

As she sits a couple of months from graduation, Yaw reports she has enough information to write three papers.

“I’m so glad I took the path I did to find my passion,” Yaw said of her interest in circadian rhythms and biology. “It’s a good Albion story because I was dead-set on becoming a doctor, but the liberal arts experience has exposed me to classes outside my discipline that have influenced me. I’ve been able to do an internship off-campus. I’ve been able to do undergraduate research and be funded to do that. And I got to be a student-athlete while doing all of that. It has been a huge part of my Albion experience.”