Alumna Kelly Carpenter paves her way in Nicaragua

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USF College of Public Health alumna Kelly Carpenter heard about public health years before studying it and it has been stuck in her head ever since.

“I wanted to specialize in a region more than I wanted to specialize in one area of public health,” Kelly Carpenter said. “We are taught that it’s the community, our stakeholders that drive the success of any intervention. So I wanted to work from within communities in Latin America and learn from them about what public health issues were affecting the health and the well-being of their families and neighbors.”

Alumna Kelly Carpenter, MPH (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Alumna Kelly Carpenter, MPH (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

While earning her undergraduate degree in Spanish at Plymouth State University, she began to dive more deeply into the history and culture of the language she was studying.

“At a certain point in language study, you stop focusing on new vocabulary and begin to learn about literature, history, economics and politics. That opened a whole new world for me. From there, I seized every opportunity that I could to travel to Latin American countries.”

Carpenter said that during these trips is when public health returned to the forefront of her mind, “it was everywhere.”

After graduating with her BA in Spanish, Carpenter started her MPH degree at the COPH.

“The global health program at the COPH really spoke to me, it was a culmination of each public health discipline within an international context,” she said.

One of Carpenter’s most proud accomplishments at the COPH was being able to participate in a research project with students and professors in her cohort. During the project they analyzed and published a paper on Latino perceptions of caregiver burden. Their findings support the inclusion of caregivers in disease management programs for patients with co-morbid chronic illness and minor depression.

While at the COPH, Carpenter said she was inspired by Dr. Jaime Corvin and Dr. Ismael Hoare, assistant professors in the Department of Global Health.

“Dr. Hoare made sure that we weren’t just studying from a textbook, but that we were really thinking about when it was time to apply these lessons, not just outside of the classroom, but outside of our own communities,” she said. “Dr. Corvin is a mentor by nature.  She opened the door to her students to play an active role in her research projects and gain an active, hands-on experience to continue the learning outside of the classroom.”

Kelly Carpenter during her international field experience presentation (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Kelly Carpenter during her international field experience presentation (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

After completing her IFE through the Foundation for Sustainable Development’s (FSD) site in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Carpenter was determined to pursue her passion for working in Latin America. She took a position working for FSD in Nicaragua mentoring student interns in asset-based community development projects with local health centers and grassroots NGO’s. She also assisted in the direct strengthening of the communities that they worked with through workshops, proposal development and grant application training.

Kelly Carpenter on her llast day in Bolivia (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Kelly Carpenter on her last day in Bolivia (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Kelly Carpenter collecting water samples in Bolivia during her international field experience (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Kelly Carpenter collecting water samples in Bolivia during her international field experience (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Kelly Carpenter in Salar, Bolivia (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Kelly Carpenter in Salar, Bolivia (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Carpenter gained a deep love for Nicaragua, the spirit and resourcefulness of the people who live there. She is deeply invested in working towards sustainable development and improving health and well-being within the community.

Carpenter has recently accepted a position as the Nicaragua program director with Global Student Embassy working directly with project partners and community stakeholders in capacity building and program development. She will spearhead new local program initiatives geared towards regenerative agriculture, food security and nutrition, and leadership development in rural communities in Nicaragua.

Global Student Embassy conducting a parent meeting in Nicaragua (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Global Student Embassy conducting a parent meeting in Nicaragua (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Internalizing the words “Our Practice is Our Passion” and taking a leap of faith in pursuit of possibility has paid off.

Students creating a motivational tree during a Global Student Embassy youth leadership class (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Students creating a motivational tree during a Global Student Embassy youth leadership class (Photo courtesy of Carpenter).

Carpenter said she continues to rely on the lessons learned from COPH’s global health practice program every day and that she even brought her textbooks with her as guiding points.

“I am currently rewriting and rebuilding our program using the same frameworks, structures and strategies that I learned in my global health courses,” she said. “I always go back to my basics and insist that we do an extensive needs assessment and build in structures for monitoring and evaluating, starting from the beginning of the project. I am dedicated to ensuring that we never implement a project in a community that has not expressly demonstrated need and interest; we see this too often with international NGO’s.”

In the future, Carpenter hopes to develop more partnerships with non-profits internationally and expand her territory to include additional Latin American sites.

“Living in Nicaragua you get used to the idea that everything changes minute by minute and you never know what’s around the corner. I am open to all of it,” she said. “I love seeing how I can pull all these things together and continue to build a stimulating, intriguing and inspiring career path.”

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health

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