“Enlightening…beautiful”: 2023 Gold Student Summer Fellows share their reflections

Each year, Gold Student Summer Fellows embark on a summer research or service project to magnify humanism in healthcare and help address health inequities through direct interaction with patients and members of their communities.

The 2023 cohort were creative, inspired, and committed to making a difference. They were keenly aware that all progress starts with community.

Here are moving testimonials from a few 2023 fellows:

“You do not have to wait for your degree or for someone to tell you to begin.”

Florida Atlantic University medical students Shannon Gallup, Sara Burgoa, Madison Goon, and Samantha Hicks pictured preparing their community garden.

“Project Grow: Cultivating Free Clinic Nutrition Education and Food Security through a Medical School Community Garden”
Sara Burgoa, Shannon Gallup, Madison Goon, and Samantha Hicks
Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University (FAU)

Medical students Sara Burgoa, Shannon Gallup, Madison Goon, and Samantha Hicks created change — literally from the ground up. Through their service project titled “Project Grow,” they planted a community garden in Palm Beach County, Florida, for patients and youth.

Collaboration with community members and partner organizations was a vital aspect of their project. It helped the fellows successfully accomplish their mission of promoting community well-being through gardening and nutrition education.

The various garden events incorporated 71 volunteers, who collectively contributed over 200 hours of their effort and dedication. The fellows took their passion for nutrition education and engaged K-12 students in farm-to-table education. Twenty-six students at FAU Henderson High School contributed countless hours to the project’s weekly garden workdays.

In addition, the fellows used the produce grown in the garden to provide nutritious meals and also organized and led workshops that incorporated meal preparation and nutritional education to patients of Caridad clinic, which serves uninsured patients of Palm Beach County.

The grand opening of the “Project Grow” garden

The fellows also experienced growth of their own during the implementation process.

“The part of the fellowship that had the biggest impact on me was the personal satisfaction and feeling of empowerment that I felt transforming an idea on paper into tangible reality,” Sara explained.

There were many valuable insights gained along the way, which included a stark reminder of the disparities that exist in nutritional food access and health education. During a back-to-school meal prep event, they interacted with children who had never tasted a fresh tomato.

“I discovered that we were capable of establishing a new initiative,” said Shannon. “It is one thing to dream that one day you can build something — it is another to realize that you do not have to wait for your degree or for someone to tell you to begin.”

The project has been warmly embraced by the broader FAU community and its various academic departments, which has spurred strong interprofessional collaboration. Additionally, garden volunteering is now being offered as a new course for second-year medical students as part of the FAU Service Learning Project curriculum. First-year medical students are being recruited to join the garden leadership so that the program continues for years to come.

Currently, the team is planning to create a sensory garden so that children on the autism spectrum can learn mindfulness techniques.


“The thing we looked forward to most every weekend.”

“Health Education and Enrichment Program for Adults with Disabilities in Rural New Hampshire”
Omar Sajjad and James Feng
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Medical students Omar Sajjad and James Feng led a service project that sought to address the systemic need for health education and social enrichment opportunities among adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in rural New Hampshire.

The Gold fellows collaborated with Visions for Creative Housing Solutions, a series of three assisted living homes in the state’s Upper Valley region.

For James, the experience was life-changing. “Omar and I found immense joy and satisfaction in working with the amazing residents at Visions. Getting to engage with them through teaching and recreation was the thing we looked forward to most every weekend,” he said.

Gold Student Summer Fellows experience so many enriching moments and lessons during their projects. And as James and Omar learned, there is always a fun anecdote, or two, to share.

For instance, a personal touch can go a long way.

James and Omar explored various locations for hosting a cooking workshop to no avail.

When they contacted a potential venue, the owner initially showed some reluctance in renting the space to students. However, her face lit up as she heard James and Omar express how much the cause of autism awareness meant to them.

“Her sister is on the autism spectrum, and for years, the owner has been a dedicated volunteer in the field. With that personal connection established, she agreed to rent us the space and also gave us a 75% discount!” they recalled.


“To be with them, through the good and the bad, brings joyful tears to my eyes.”

“Addressing Social Determinants of Health and Healthcare Access for the Refugee Population through Trauma Informed Care at the Juarez/El Paso Border”
Medha Palnati
Albany Medical College

Medha Palnati and medical residents visit Clínica Hope after a trauma-informed care training session

Medical student Medha Palnati’s service project sought to alleviate the significant barriers to care that the migrant/refugee community faces at the Juarez, Mexico/El Paso, Texas, United States border.

“Visiting [a volunteer-run clinic in El Paso] with my patients from the border after they’ve journeyed to the Northeast has been one of the most rewarding experiences,” Medha said. “To see them settled, overcoming the stress of their journeys, to be with them through the good and the bad, brings joyful tears to my eyes.”

A memory that Medha will carry with her into her future as a compassionate physician was particularly vivid. “I got to be there with one of the families who I met at the border in 2020 when they experienced their first Rhode Island snow — the kiddos decorated a gingerbread house with me, and we broke into it together,” she recalled.

During her fellowship, Medha created a Trauma Informed Care “Journey” Tool, which leads healthcare professionals through empathy-based first-person exercises and can be applied to several different disadvantaged, underrepresented, and classically marginalized groups in medicine.

“I hope to build cases that can take healthcare professionals first-hand through some of the difficulties with pursuing healthcare and living with chronic conditions that these communities experience in hopes of helping physicians better understand their patients who belong to these populations,” she said.


“One of the most enlightening, overwhelming, at times frustrating, but many more times, beautiful experiences of my medical school career.”

“Building Bridges and Creating Villages for LGBTQ+ Aging-Out Foster Youth: A Comprehensive Advocacy and Education Pilot Program”
Mary Finedore
Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine medical student Mary Finedore pictured with a supervisor at her swearing in ceremony as a Court Appointed Special Advocate of Kent County, MI

For medical student Mary Finedore, her fellowship experience was full of emotion and meaning, and it was surprising in the best way.

“This fellowship has been one of the most enlightening, overwhelming, at times frustrating, but many more times, beautiful experiences of my medical school career,” she said. “I’ve learned more about child welfare, teamwork, the court system, the medical system, people and myself in this short period of time than I have in many years of schooling.”

Mary’s service project was focused on creating the first comprehensive LGBTQ+ training program for volunteers, staff, foster parents, caseworkers, and school staff in partnership with a local CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) and developing a resource program for aging out foster youth.

“With respect to the goals of my LGBTQ+ training, I feel I accomplished much more than I hoped. I feel grateful and thrilled about this. I learned so much as a teacher and so much as a student, and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful and growing opportunity than that,” she explained.

Mary’s work to develop a guidebook for aging out youth proved to be incredibly informative, and she looks forward to continuing to improve it moving forward.

She received glowing feedback from her mentor upon showing her a final draft of the guidebook. She offered to help Mary hand out and collect data on her guidebook so the resource can be tailored towards the needs of kids in foster care and the various professionals who are part of their journey.

Mary pictured leading her LGBTQ+ workshop for the Michigan CASA State Conference for CASA volunteers and staff from all across Michigan

Additionally, two wonderful opportunities arose during her time completing this fellowship. Mary became a CASA. In addition, she was asked to present at the Michigan CASA State Conference as their LGBTQ+ workshop speaker.

Mary’s experience as a Gold Student Summer Fellow has given her so many reasons to remain hopeful and committed to improving the lives of foster youth.

“Now, I can see that there are so many youths who can be accepted for who they are. I’ve never been so deeply moved and filled with hope than seeing this at my training sessions,” she explained. “And this makes me feel like the fight is possible, to better the lives of foster youth even if the climb is near vertical.”


This experience has been profoundly life-altering.”

“Differentiated Service Delivery for People with Multidrug-Resistant Tuberculosis and HIV Co-Infection in South Africa”
Karl Reis
Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons

Karl pictured at the Thabani Magwaza Clinic in Tongaat, South Africa

Medical student Karl Reis led a research project focused on individuals diagnosed with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and HIV co-infection with the aim of contributing to the theoretic and practical evidence base for a novel set of treatment interventions.

As Karl interacted with patients, he was struck by the extent and complexity of the problems posed by tuberculosis and HIV. He was also inspired by the individuals dedicating their lives to solving these problems.

“I’ve learned to see the issues from new perspectives and have emerged with even more questions than I started with,” he said.

Karl gleaned so many valuable lessons from his experience.

For instance, by learning about the complexities of tuberculosis in South Africa, he can now recognize the nuanced etiologies of his patients’ complaints. As a result, he will be better able to treat them by being a more empathetic clinician.

“When a patient walks into a clinical examination room, it’s easy to see their health, or lack of health, as an individual issue, stemming from individual lifestyles and choices,” he said. “However, learning about tuberculosis in South Africa has made it clear that individual choices are rarely the foremost determinant of health.”

To read fuller synopses of the 2023 Gold Student Summer Fellowship projects, visit our Practical Applications of Humanism database. You can filter by program or search by keyword.

Learn more about the program criteria and how to apply for the 2024 Gold Student Summer Fellowship. If you have any questions, please contact Michelle Sloane, Director of Program Initiatives, at msloane@gold-foundation.org.

Irene Zampetoulas, MPA

Communications Associate

Supports the Foundation's marketing and communications initiatives, including writing stories, updating social media, crafting our messages, and more.