Sometimes, a single class is enough to shift your entire world view – and set you on a new life’s course.
For Endicott native Alexandra Schmidt, that turning point came in SUNY Broome’s Health for Haiti program, a global service learning course that provides practical assistance to the people of the island nation, where widespread poverty, unsafe water, poor sanitation and a lack of healthcare threaten lives and futures.
“Although I had always loved volunteering and participating in community service projects, nothing compared to the experience I had in Haiti,” said Schmidt, who was part of the college’s first Health for Haiti class in 2014. “For the first time, I was exposed to the realities of poverty that I had been so sheltered from throughout my life, and that is something I am eternally grateful for.”
Schmidt, who visited Professor Jennifer Musa’s Art of Science class this fall to speak about her experiences, went on to earn her Associate’s in Business Administration, and then transferred to Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Supply Chain and Management. But rather than seek her future in a corporate boardroom, she chose instead to pursue her dream career – in Uganda.
Schmidt will move to the African nation this month as partnership adviser for Global Health Network Uganda, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health outcomes in that country. She’s been to Uganda before, taking part in a six-week internship with Nourish International, a North Carolina-based nonprofit she learned about at SU’s community service fair.
“I’m going to be moving to Uganda in October. I didn’t picture that when I started college!” she said during her September visit to campus. “It’s amazing how connected the world is. Everyone can find something they’re passionate about.”
A love for service
While Health for Haiti marked Schmidt’s first international experience, her passion for service runs deep. As a student at Maine-Endwell High School, she participated in Key Club, volunteering for more than 100 hours each year.
“I’ve always been very aware of the inequalities in the world,” she mused. “I remember when I was 5, I asked why Santa didn’t bring toys to the poor kids.”
Admittedly, not everyone understood her passion. With a supply chain and management degree, she could pull in more than a decent salary in the corporate world. Why not pursue service work on the side, as a hobby? some asked. And why not pursue that work closer to home, rather than half a world away?
With her skill set, Schmidt feels that she can accomplish more abroad, working on such issues as clean water or nutrition; even language barriers can be surmounted, she has found. In Haiti, she saw firsthand how many islanders had no clean water for drinking and bathing; Health for Haiti worked to tackle that problem in 2015 when it brought a water filtration system to the rural village of Grande Saline. Uganda also faces intense poverty; she remembers a 14-year-old girl she met during her internship there, who ran the household as a grown woman – rising at 4 a.m. to fetch water for her family each day.
“For me, it was not only about joining a cause I am passionate about, but also being able to connect with other people that became my family, much like the relationships we formed in Haiti,” she said, explaining how she cherished the opportunity to form deep connections with the communities she serves. “My experience with Heath for Haiti sparked the birth of the passion that has consumed my life over the past two years, and despite my enrollment in Syracuse’s business school, I have decided to pursue a career in international development.”
Her education in both business and compassion laid the foundation.
“The world needs more people who are passionate about what they do. Do what you do and do it wholeheartedly,” she advised current and future Hornets. “Don’t be afraid to take risks.”