St. Olaf student awarded Rotary Global Grant Scholarship
St. Olaf College student Kaitlin Johnson ’23 has received a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship that will enable her to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Dundee in Scotland.
The $35,000 award from Rotary International is an annual scholarship that supports graduate-level studies related to one or more of Rotary’s seven areas of focus, with an emphasis on humanitarian issues. Johnson will enroll in a master’s program for public health in the fall of 2023.
“Last semester I was studying abroad at the University of Dundee in Scotland, and I absolutely loved it. I had the most amazing time, and Dundee now feels like a second home to me. I was able to make close connections with faculty, along with the ability to partake in independent research, and ultimately, I became super involved within the school,” she says. “The University of Dundee has an impressive school of public health, and they have a lot of opportunities to get involved with personalized research that is in line with what you are passionate about, which is something I would like to take advantage of.”
Last semester I was studying abroad at the University of Dundee in Scotland, and I absolutely loved it. I had the most amazing time, and Dundee now feels like a second home to me.Kaitlin Johnson ’23
Another reason Johnson chose to attend graduate school in Scotland is because the opportunity will allow her to experience a different healthcare system and observe what may be beneficial components to implement into U.S. healthcare.
“Another critical factor for me in choosing to study at the University of Dundee was the fact that I highly value the experience of studying and living in another country, since every country has a system that functions differently, and it’s valuable to see how other healthcare systems are being utilized,” Johnson says. “I think that it is critical if you are interested in the field of public health to see other perspectives firsthand, and I cannot think of a better way to accomplish that than living and immersing yourself in another culture.”
The Rotary scholarship also recommends a proposed humanitarian project in the community the recipient will study abroad in. For her project, Johnson plans to work with Alzheimer’s Scotland, an organization that supports families and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. With this organization, she will be able to attend various conferences around the country focused specifically on Alzheimer’s patients and their perspectives. Johnson initially became interested in working with Alzheimer’s patients while helping a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s for the past year.
“The experience of helping and spending time with her has absolutely changed my life. It especially opened my eyes to the stigmas of people not knowing what early onset Alzheimer’s is and how the disease impacts not just the person, but also their friends, families, and communities,” she says. “It has made me aware of lesser-known neurodegenerative diseases, along with the exciting research advances taking place as we speak. I’m excited to work with this community in Scotland because the woman I was helping greatly appreciated our time together, even with the simplest things, such as playing a board game. It meant so much to me, and I would love to continue helping others in similar situations.”
Johnson is a biology and economics major on a pre-health track. “The biology and economics majors have tied my interests in a way where I can apply my skills on a broader scale, and I think having both majors have really helped me to facilitate these skills. I’ve been able to learn a lot in my economics courses about healthcare systems,” Johnson says, noting that her healthcare economics course last semester taught her about various healthcare systems from around the world and what we can learn from them. “You don’t necessarily discuss the actual healthcare systems in your chemistry and biology courses, and a lot of issues that are happening in healthcare aren’t always about individual providers or clinics. A lot of current issues are regarding how our system functions as a whole, and I think an economics or humanities perspective, in general, can enable you to view these systematic issues more clearly, or at least in a different way.”
After graduate school, Johnson is interested in pursuing a career in epidemiology and understanding the mechanisms of disease. Specifically, she is passionate about research, improving healthcare systems, interacting with patients to hear their personal experiences, and improving global health.
“I want to work in a role where I feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives, not only individually, but on a global scale. I want to help advocate for people to receive the health care access everyone deserves because I strongly believe that healthcare is a human right, and I don’t think there should ever be barriers to access it,” she says. “Working in a clinic last summer made me realize how even minor conditions can impact someone’s lifestyle. Your health is connected to your job, your relationships, etc., and I think removing any barriers to access is critical because your health truly impacts every realm of life.”
I want to work in a role where I feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives, not only individually, but on a global scale. I want to help advocate for people to receive the health care access everyone deserves because I strongly believe that healthcare is a human right, and I don’t think there should ever be barriers to access it.Kaitlin Johnson ’23
Johnson also wants to continue working with Rotary in the future. She is incredibly grateful for all of the connections and guidance she has received from Rotary members, such as board member Gary Campbell, who selected her for the scholarship; member Chris Weber ’91, who helped Johnson understand Rotary’s missions and goals; and St. Olaf Professor Emeritus of Economics Bill Carlson, who met with Johnson numerous times to solidify her application.
“I’m super grateful for all the connections I’ve made with Rotary,” Johnson says. “I’ve been to a couple of their meetings, and everyone in the organization has been so helpful. You get to meet people with different careers and life stages within Rotary, but they all have the common goal of genuinely wanting to help people, and that’s amazing. It’s incredible to see the country to country interaction among Rotary as well, and the ability to bond with others with the common goal of promoting equity and access to all. I think that’s inspiring, and I’m so thankful for all of the people who helped me out with this grant. This opportunity is absolutely life changing for me.”