Graduate physical education student Heather Prochaska can sum up her undergraduate study abroad trip to Belize in two words: life changing.
“It completely opened my eyes to the basic health care that we take for granted in the United States almost on a daily basis,” said Prochaska, who graduated from the exercise science program in May 2016.
During her group’s time in the Central American country, she volunteered at a hospital and orphanage, helped host a health fair marketplace, gave physical therapy sessions to the elderly and helped to run a health clinic to encourage better health care practices in local communities. Prochaska witnessed not only the stark differences between the health care in Belize and the U.S.—but also how closely tied job stability in the San Ignacio region was to health.
“Dr. Hunt gave us a heads up about the experience we’d most likely have,” said Prochaska. “He let us know it’s a large oil mining community—so with that you have individuals who rely on their good health in order to take care of their families.”
The Kennesaw, Georgia, native came back from Belize in fall 2015 semester invigorated. The impact she felt she made on the trip, she wanted to carry it forward for the next study abroad cohort.
“I knew that to be an advocate for this program, it had to expand beyond the trip,” she said. “I had to be a walking, talking version of what I learned on that trip and constantly show how impactful we as a group were able to be. The best way to show people why their donations were important was to show them the difference we were making.”
Through word-of-mouth, she hit the ground running. She collected toothbrushes, toothpaste, health testing and medical equipment, bandages and more. Most recently, she confirmed a $17,000 donation from medical supplies company HTL-STREFA, who donated pallets of lancets, a blood-sampling device, in varying sizes.
“It will make a huge difference and not just for this next group that goes, but for the continued health care of communities we serve,” she said.
Dr. Kevin Hunt, assistant professor and Master of Arts in Teaching physical education coordinator, has seen firsthand Prochaska’s dedication to health care and now as a graduate student, health education.
“Heather was always a mature and independent undergraduate student. Whether serving on the advisory board of her academic organization, participating in study abroad experiences, embarking on mission trips or organizing charity events for Georgia College, she was demonstrating leadership abilities,” said Hunt. “As a graduate student, she has continued to devote her time and energy to the service of the less fortunate. Her intrinsic passion to serve others drives her to undertake challenges with no thought of reward.”
Now at an 8-week placement at Oak Hill Middle School, Prochaska is teaching physical and health education. Her passion for health education that spawned in Belize will carry on as she plans to eventually teach underserved populations in the Peace Corps.
“Georgia College has allowed me to bring out the best of my ability,” said Prochaska. “To have a program like this be so life altering—I wouldn’t have gotten that anywhere else. I would have studied abroad, but I wouldn’t have had hands-on experience in service-learning. I was able to make a real impact and it’s because of Georgia College.”