Meet Sydney Burchell
Sydney Burchell will be the first one to tell you she grew up fairly privileged. It is that lifestyle, and its stark contrast to her learning experiences thus far at ETSU, that have led her toward the path of helping others.
You’ll often find the junior public health major knee-deep – literally – in the hands-on learning opportunities provided at The Niswonger VILLAGE at Valleybrook. The real-life simulation lab for ETSU’s College of Public Health puts students right in the middle of third-world countries and forces them to address problems faced by the native people of those regions.
“Our job here is to create the kind of situations that challenge our students to use creative thinking, problem-solving, teamwork and innovation to really make a difference in people’s lives,” says Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the College of Public Health. “We ask them to go into this house and make it safer for a toddler; go into that house and reduce the risks of an elderly woman falling; go into the village and do a door-to-door malaria education campaign.”
Burchell is one of dozens of ETSU students to take part in building the VILLAGE – Virtual International Living: Learning Across Global Environments – from the ground up. Using images, measurements and experiences of other students and faculty members who have traveled to various third-world countries, the students built replica low-resource homes representing life in different countries.
“I came right out of general education classes so this was very new, being able to have hands-on experiences, not in a lab setting but in a real-world situation. Out here, I’ve learned how to measure, how to use a hammer and nails,” Burchell says. “It’s really neat to see that real people live in this mud shack that we are working on and people live in that scrap metal house.”
Building the low-resource homes has given Burchell and her classmates many of the skills needed to help others, not just in third-world countries, but right here in Central Appalachia.
“Throughout our careers, we are going to come across people who live in, maybe not mud shacks, but very low-resource homes here,” she says. “They are not going to be very healthy and they’re not going to have access to the best health care. The experiences at the VILLAGE – being in a setting that has no running water, no bathroom, no actual sleeping area – will allow us to better help people in the long run.”
As for Burchell, she plans to take her experiences at the VILLAGE and apply them to her goal of addressing the health care disparities that exist in the region. Exactly how, though, remains to be seen.
“Public health is so broad and it can be taken in any direction. That’s what makes the program so appealing to me,” she says. “It’s hard to sit here and tell you that I want to take my career in one, set direction. My interests are kind of all over the place.”
Burchell says she is considering working with inmates before, during and after their sentences to ensure they are living healthy and productive lives but also likes the idea of helping elderly individuals living in a long-term care facilities.
“The possibilities are endless, but working at the VILLAGE has really helped me visualize helping people in a real-world setting. It has helped me think harder and longer about how to approach a problem,” she says. “The experience is helpful for whatever career path I choose and I am so glad to have this opportunity.”