It took Laura Corlin a trip overseas to discover her passion for community and environmental health. As a result, just before graduating from Tufts, she’s been busier than usual presenting a thesis on a 2½-year asthma epidemiology research project, working eight-hour shifts, and serving as the campus director of development for a national group on health equity.
Corlin, 22, will be one of about 1,500 students graduating at Tufts’ 157th commencement ceremony in Medford on Sunday. The Littleton, Colo., native will earn her degree in biopsychology and community health as well as the 2013 Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service.
“I’m grateful for the tools, resources, and ideas I’ve gained over my time here,” said Corlin.
But Corlin won’t be leaving with only her degree. She teamed up with Kanupriya Tewari, another Tufts senior, to cofound a vibrant chapter of a health equity program called GlobeMed to expose fellow students to global health disparities.
The two met in classes, and later combined their experiences and medical interests to help establish the campus organization. Tewari, who has roots in India and Egypt and has traveled to Haiti, Lesotho, Malawi, and Rwanda as an intern with Partners in Health, knew it would complement Corlin’s commitment to addressing health care shortages worldwide.
“My motivation — which is shared by Laura and others — stems from a sustainable and accountable model I learned [at GlobeMed],” Tewari said. “It promotes student engagement in global health.”
With over 50 sites across the United States, GlobeMed is maintained by university students through partnerships with grass-roots organizations. The Tufts chapter partners with Nyaya Health, a network that serves the poor in rural Nepal by raising funds for building projects.
As a result of Corlin’s leadership, Tufts students have raised more than $16,000 to expand Nyaya’s community health worker program and installed 28 solar panels to operate the new surgical center, microbiology labs, and the food bank in the rural hospital, said Katherine Cinnamond, assistant director of public relations at Tufts.
“Laura knows so much about the world of public health,” said Marie Schow, a junior biology major and incoming copresident of GlobeMed. “When Laura returned from her internship in Nepal, she brought back stories of what life was like and it made our work here on campus more tangible.”
Corlin will stay on the East Coast and attend Tufts for a master’s degree in environmental health, and plans to pursue a doctorate.
“My family has always supported and encouraged my siblings and me to be involved with our community,” said Corlin. “Those of us with resources have a responsibility to use them to improve society.”
Even so, balancing the emotional and ethical aspects of weighty issues like global health care can be challenging for college students. But according to her friends, Corlin finds time for lighter activities.
“We get coffee and dinner all the time to laugh and relax,” said Schow. “Laura is sometimes a 5-year-old at heart.”
Her professors also are impressed by her work ethic and maturity, as she is often the youngest person presenting at science conferences and is sometimes mistaken for a PhD or even post-doctorate student. Doug Brugge, a professor of public and community health at the university, said Corlin’s high academic achievement and leadership skills combined with her interest in civically engaged activities is a rare combination.
Corlin is quick to acknowledge the power students have when they work together to address global issues that can otherwise seem insurmountable.
“Advocacy and partnership are important aspects of our work,” said Corlin. “It’s all about the team.”