Andrew Parra and Serena Truong organized an effort this fall providing much-needed health education, screenings and supplies to members of an underserved community in Southwest Florida. It was part of their ongoing efforts to address disparities in access to medical services.
The two December Honors College graduates are among nine Florida Gulf Coast University students selected to receive prestigious Millennium Fellowships (see accompanying list). The semester-long leadership development program is designed to help students enhance their organizational and community impact skills through projects examining global issues through a local lens.
A joint initiative of the United Nations Academic Impact and the Millennium Campus Network, the fellowship program supports student-led projects that advance the UN’s sustainable development goals. They include eradicating poverty and hunger, improving gender equity, battling climate issues and enhancing education, health and well-being.
For their Millennium Fellowship project, Parra and Truong expanded on previous efforts offering healthcare services to Southwest Floridians. The duo previously received the 2023 National Collegiate Honors Council Community Engagement Award for their work with Global Medical Brigades, an international health and sustainable development agency connecting university students with communities in need worldwide.
“Our journey began with a simple idea,” said Parra, a Fresno, California, resident majoring in psychology with a concentration in neuroscience and cognition.
“Serena and I had a history of serving with FGCU’s Global Medical Brigades, where we often organized free health clinics in Immokalee,” Parra said. “It got us thinking, ‘Why limit our efforts to just one place? Were there other communities nearby that could use our help?’ With these questions in mind, we embarked on a research journey that eventually led us to the community of Golden Gate.”
Parra and Truong said they discovered that Golden Gate is among the most economically disadvantaged communities in Southwest Florida, with more than a fourth of its population lacking health insurance and a per capita income of approximately $23,000.
In contrast, in Naples – less than 20 minutes away, with a per capita income of roughly $127,000 – only 8.5% of the population has no health insurance.
“Our decision to focus on health services for underserved populations, specifically in Golden Gate, stems from a deep sense of compassion and curiosity for the well-being of our community members,” said Truong, a nursing major from Naples. “When we examine the stark disparities in healthcare access and economic conditions between Golden Gate and neighboring communities like Naples, it becomes increasingly evident that this is an issue that urgently requires attention.”
The duo worked with FGCU faculty member Courtney Satkoski, who teaches the “Honors Foundations of Civic Engagement” course, to form a cadre of student volunteers to assist in collecting donations for the clinic, spread the word and provide hands-on help on the day of the clinic. Parra and Truong obtained funding from the FGCU Global Engagement Office, allowing them to purchase essential items including toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, diapers and baby wipes for distribution at the clinic.
They also developed informative pamphlets with sections for recording vital signs such as pulse, respiration rate, blood pressure, height, weight and blood-sugar levels, and they compiled a list of free or affordable local resources where community members could obtain healthcare, food and clothing. The pamphlets were printed in English, Spanish and Creole to help meet the needs of the diverse community members of Golden Gate.
The students set up their clinic Oct. 21 at a Golden Gate community center that also hosts a popular Saturday farmers market. “This location ensured a steady flow of visitors, right at the heart of the community,” said Truong, a member of FGCU’s student Hall of Fame who is on track to graduate in December. Her goals include attending graduate school to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Parra and Truong said they hope that their project has empowered and supported an underserved community by providing residents with essential knowledge about health and how to nurture it, all while recognizing the financial barriers that can hinder well-being. About 30 residents visited the clinic that Saturday.
“Our choice to serve the community of Golden Gate stems from a sincere commitment to addressing these disparities,” said Parra, a December graduate who hopes to attend medical school and ultimately become a neurosurgeon.
“Good health and well-being are fundamental human rights, and we believe that every individual, regardless of their economic circumstances, deserves access to quality healthcare,” Truong said.
Parra and Truong, and the other FGCU fellowship recipients, are part of about 4,000 “student change-makers” from 38 nations selected this year from 44,000 applicants, said Starlette Sinclair, FGCU assistant professor of psychology and Millennium Fellowship mentor. This marks the third consecutive year that FGCU students have been selected.
“To me, receiving the designation for the third year in a row is a testament to how our students embody the university’s vision and mission to create global citizens who are sustainability-minded and committed to making their communities better,” Sinclair said.
“What does this mean to the university? Simply, more evidence that our intentional and systemic sustainability-focused setting is a rich environment for developing strong and committed leaders. Serena and Andrew are true ambassadors for our university and a powerful example of the passion and drive for change that our students possess.”
Other Millennium Fellowship recipients describe their projects and the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDG) they represent:
Brianna Casey (Honors College)
Ostracism: The Importance of Inclusion (SDG: Good health and well-being)
I want to educate others on the effects of ostracism and encourage my peers to practice inclusion.
Emma Diehl (Honors) (campus director)
Hope is Not a Strategy (SDG: Gender equality; peace, justice and strong institutions)
A project which is going to inform students of resources they have access to in the wake of sexual assault.
Lexi Kest (Honors)
Swipes to End Starvation (SDG: Zero hunger; reduced inequalities)
I am working on developing a method for students to donate their unused meal swipes that would otherwise go to waste when they reset each week into an anonymous database where food insecure students can claim them and use them.
Korembi (SDG: Quality education; peace, justice and strong institutions)
Korembi is dedicated to preserving endangered and critical languages through education. We offer innovative AI-generated custom language courses that cater to diverse learners, with self-paced modules and live lessons.
Angeline Pierre (Honors)
The Right Reaction: Basic Counseling Skills (SDG: Good health and well-being)
This project aims to teach students how to react to their peers experiencing a mental health crisis.
Rayna Smith (Honors)
Just Ask Without Shame (JAWS) (SDG: Good health and well-being)
JAWS is focused on dissolving the stigma surrounding substance abuse to encourage others to access the recovery resources available.
Sadie Wilke (Honors) (campus director)
E-ssentials: Supporting Aged-Out Foster Care and Homeless Youths (SDG: Reduced inequalities)
My project revolves around the development and establishment of an on-campus resource closet system at Florida Gulf Coast University that provides essential items to students at FGCU.