|Gifford Graduates With Global Medicine Goals|
Armel Gifford is a pioneer in a number of ways.
She’s a member of the first class to graduate from the University of St. Thomas with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry, one of the fastest growing fields in science. She’s volunteered twice in Tanzania and interned at the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine.
“Armel’s the perfect UST student,” said Dr. Michelle Steiger, assistant professor in chemistry and physics. “She’s really interested in learning and understanding, not just memorizing by rote. She’s out there volunteering internationally and actually got the internship at Baylor on her own. I see a very great future ahead for Armel and have no doubt of her abilities to change the world for the better.”
Gifford shakes her head shyly. It’s all a part of her dream to be a doctor specializing in tropical medicine and work with an international medical group, such as Doctors Without Borders.
Gifford began volunteering in Panama when she was in high school. As a freshman at UST, she wanted to return to Panama, but a group called Cross Cultural Solutions offered her a chance to volunteer in Ghana or Tanzania.
“I chose Tanzania because I wanted to learn Swahili,” she said.
Gifford was sent to the town of Moshi, at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro. Though she admired the exotic beauty of Tanzania’s landscape, it was the people who really made an impression.
During her first visit over Christmas, Gifford worked at a health clinic, weighing babies and checking pregnant mothers. She listened as the women received counseling about various health issues. The following summer, Gifford returned and volunteered at the Kilimanjaro Center for Street Children, an orphanage for children ages 5-14. The center feeds and educates the children, who often come from families unable to raise them.
“They have an expression in Tanzania: ‘we share the poverty.’” Gifford said. “Once at the orphanage, the director had one bottle of Coca-Cola, but no cups. About 10 children cupped their hands and each had a mouthful. It was so inspiring to see.”
After graduation, Gifford plans to spend the summer traveling in Europe. After that she may return to Tanzania to work with a doctor, or find a job at a research lab in Houston before applying to medical school.
“My experience at UST was essential to my endeavors in medicine and to my goals of working in the international community,” she said. “University of St. Thomas has an excellent pre-medicine program that prepared me both intellectually and mentally for medical school. Throughout the four years, I have always appreciated the fact that whenever I had any sort of problem or question, whether personal or academic, I could directly approach any one of my professors who would work directly with me to resolve the issue.”
Beyond her biology classes, Gifford’s strengths and interests were also nurtured by the faculty in the International Studies Department. Overall, Gifford said UST’s emphasis on a solid liberal arts program stands as an integral part to her personal intellectual development.
“The International Studies Department further expanded my horizons and showed me that I am part of both the local and global community,” Gifford said. “The professors and courses guided me to realize that our individual capabilities should never be underestimated; through our actions, we can effect positive change not only in our own society, but also throughout the world.
“UST is very dedicated to creating graduates who are not only extremely qualified to enter the workforce, but who also are educated and can think critically about the world around them. I am proud to say that I have not simply received a degree from the University of St. Thomas; rather I have received a true education whose benefits continuously reap in all aspects of my life."