Erica Cherian, a junior at UNC Charlotte who is devoted to addressing issues of healthcare access and utilization by Charlotte’s most vulnerable citizens, has been named a Newman Civic Fellow.
“For as long as I can remember, I have been driven to defend those who could not defend themselves,” says Cherian, a biology and Spanish double major who also is a Levine Scholar. “Frustration gnaws at me when I see injustice being done, or human beings reduced to stereotypes and therefore being treated differently.”
Newman Civic Fellows are student leaders who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions to challenges that face their communities. They were nominated by their college/university presidents. Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides learning opportunities focused on the skills fellows need to serve as effective agents of change in addressing public problems and building equitable communities.
As an aspiring physician, Cherian has focused her scholarship, research and volunteerism on the disparities in healthcare. She has volunteered with free clinics in the Charlotte region, particularly those working with the Hispanic population.
“I think it’s important that we think about the service we’re doing,” Cherian says. “One of the hot terms right now is voluntourism. But there is so much need in this country. There are so many things people could be doing here. You don’t necessarily have to go abroad to get that experience. There are people suffering here. That’s an important story that needs to be told.”
North Carolina and the Charlotte region have one of the fastest growing undocumented Hispanic populations in the nation. “They don’t have a lot of resources, and they are people who have needs,” she says. “I think it’s important we address those needs. One of the biggest needs is health care because they don’t necessarily have insurance, and they don’t always have access to health care or knowledge of how to access health care.”
Her studies at UNC Charlotte have exposed her to data about health care disparities. She has taken that knowledge and expanded it through her immersive experiences.
“Learning about numbers and statistics is nothing compared to the experience of speaking with real people about the trials and hardships that they have faced in accessing care,” she says. “In collaboration with my peers, I am working to develop an app that will disseminate healthcare information and resources to Hispanic teenagers. While this only addresses a symptom of the larger problem of inequity that resounds throughout the system of healthcare, it does help address the immediate crisis of access.”
Cherian volunteers at one clinic as an interpreter, assisting with patient flow and processing and encouraging other UNC Charlotte students to consider their engagement opportunities.
“Her leadership by example inspires other students to develop the language skills and grounded experience to look beyond abstract numbers and descriptions of healthcare needs, and develop the vision and understanding to serve the needs of the most vulnerable patients,” says UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois.
While public recognition for her service makes Cherian a bit uncomfortable, she also embraces the need to acknowledge that service is important.
“With the polarization that is occurring now, I think the most important thing that service does for you is that it really brings out your empathetic side and helps you see what people are actually experiencing, not the misleading stories that are being told about people,” she says. “Those stories are not reality. The statistics, too, are not the same as actually talking with people and interacting with them.”
Campus Compact, a Boston-based non-profit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education, named 273 students as its 2017 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows for the one-year fellowship. The Newman Civic Fellowship is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.