August 23, 2019 - A weeklong program for new undergraduates at Georgetown University has highlighted the connection among the health field, Jesuit values, and social justice.

Now in its third year, the initiative, “CURA: A Healthcare Pre-Orientation Program,” is a collaboration involving the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS), Georgetown’s Office of Mission and Ministry, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. It is funded through the ongoing generosity of Georgetown BSN alumna Dee Harrison-Garvin (NHS’75), a member of the NHS Board of Advisors.

“Every year I’ve been involved with CURA, it has never failed to exceed my expectations,” says nursing major Nicole Chen (NHS’20), who spent the summer planning the program with co-leader Sara Niederberger (NHS’20).

“Being a part of CURA for the past two years has taught me a lot about myself and what I care about,” adds Niederberger, a human science major. “It has informed me of the vast injustices that are embedded in our health care system, while motivating me to serve populations who are at the receiving end of it.”

‘Mission and Values’

Chen and Niederberger have been working with advisors Professor Joan Riley, an associate professor of human science, and Vanessa Taylor, assistant to the dean of the school, on the program, which also involved five undergraduate student leaders and 15 new Georgetown students from Georgetown College and NHS.

Georgetown students pose outside of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

Students, as a part of their participation this week in “CURA: A Healthcare Pre-Orientation Program,” worked with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. (Photo: Leslie E. Kossoff for Georgetown University)

“CURA has allowed me a space to develop and refine my leadership skills,” says Chen, who was completing a nurse externship at Sibley Memorial Hospital while planning CURA. “Under the guidance of great mentors, I’ve been pushed to become a more meticulous, compassionate, and confident leader, while always keeping the mission and values of the program at heart.”

Niederberger, who also worked this summer in an organic chemistry laboratory on campus, shares a similar view.

“CURA helps students determine which path to take at Georgetown in order to achieve their goals,” she says. “Being a part of CURA for the past two years has taught me a lot about myself and what I care about. It has informed me of the vast injustices that are embedded in our health care system, while motivating me to serve populations who are at the receiving end of it. Above all, CURA provides students with a community of people who are here to support them as they work towards their goals at Georgetown.”

A Week of Activities

The week includes immersion and service experiences like shadowing staff members at Catholic Charities sites and distributing lunches to individuals experiencing homelessness. 

Saham Ali (C’21), a biology of global health major who is a CURA student leader, says, “I am really passionate about social justice.” Ali, who plans a career as a physician, was attracted to CURA’s focus on health, justice, and medicine. “That’s why I wanted to be a part of the team.”

Also built into the week are opportunities for the new students to reflect upon the experiences and themselves, including interacting with Georgetown’s Jesuit community and chaplaincy staff.

“The students are so insightful,” says the Rev. Jerry Hayes, SJ, director of Ignatian Programs in the Office of Mission and Ministry. “The program is incredibly valuable. It sets the right tone, and we hope the students will think, ‘I am going to continue to feed what I experienced this week. I am going to make it my focus.’”

Hayes noted the Jesuit community hosted the student participants for prayer-based reflective activity, known as the examen, in the chapel at Wolfington Hall, as well as an ice cream social.

Making a Difference

Participants say the experience has broadened their perspectives. For instance, Jack Kelly (NHS’23), a health care management & policy major, says he has gained a deeper understanding of poverty within the city. “I thought [CURA] would give me a good experience in providing quality care” to communities, he says.

Global health major Sarina Tajuddin (NHS’23) adds that CURA has provided insight on careers in health care and community service. “Health care is about serving other people,” she says, noting the importance of careers that focus on underserved areas. 

Doha Maaty (NHS’23), also a global health major, echoed Tajuddin’s sentiment about the appeal of the program’s focus on health care and social justice. “Wherever you go, there will always be people who need help. They are people just like you and me,” she says.

And biology of global health major Ayush Saha (C’23) says the program helped him learn more about social justice and Jesuit values.  

Saha says CURA allowed him “to see a different side of health care” and engage with marginalized communities, prompting him to reflect on “what [he] can do to make a difference.”