Alice Zients ’12 isn’t kidding when she says she caught the “travel bug” during her time as a student at Franklin & Marshall College. The Maryland native studied for a semester in Argentina, spent a winter break educating citizens in Guatemala on health issues, and traveled on a medical mission to Honduras.
Zients may have graduated from F&M, but she still has the bug.
Supported by a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship (PiLA), Zients traveled to Central America on June 29 to embark on one year of public-health work as a development coordinator in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. She is one of 35 PiLA Fellows selected from a national pool of 290 applicants in 2012, and the second F&M student to receive the award, joining 2011 recipient Alejandro Alfaro Aco ’11.
“I’m really excited because this fellowship is such an honor and an opportunity,” said Zients, who graduated from F&M with a special studies major in health and society and minor in Latin American studies. “It’s nice to find a job that is applicable to everything I’ve done at F&M. I’m excited to be challenged.”
Princeton in Latin America partners with nonprofit organizations throughout Latin America to match the organizations with young, public-sector professionals seeking full-year fellowships in development work. Recent fellows have focused on microfinance and entrepreneurship in Chile, malnutrition alleviation in Guatemala, and conservation in the Peruvian Amazon, among many other projects. Alfaro Aco worked on corporate social responsibility issues relating to the Peruvian mining industry.
Zients will work through June 2013 in the development office of Hospitalito Atitlán, a nonprofit hospital in the Guatemalan highlands. She will coordinate a wide spectrum of tasks, including fundraising, donation management, volunteer orientation, public-health programming, and volunteer housing. She also will create and send publications for the hospital and manage social media.
“It’s really a mixed bag of responsibilities,” Zients said of the work at Hospitalito Atitlán. “Everything they need is thrown into a hat and put on my head.”
Zients has the energy and drive to meet the challenge, according to Professor Monica Cable, F&M’s director of postgraduate fellowships.
“Alice is one of the most tenacious people I’ve ever met,” said Cable, who encouraged Zients throughout the PiLA application process. “She doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, in a good way. She’s a motivated self-starter and an indomitable spirit. She sets her mind on something and goes for it. I can’t think of a better person for this fellowship because it combines her love for Guatemala and passion for public health.”
Zients became fascinated with the culture of Central and South America during her travels as an F&M student.
“Some European countries remind me of America, but in Latin America, nothing is like my part of the world,” Zients said. “So much of the culture has been preserved over time. Mayan ruins, temples and traditional medicine are so fascinating. It’s like going back in time and seeing hidden gems.”
Visiting Assistant Professor of Public Policy Rich Pepino, Zients’ academic adviser, said Zients represents an emerging type of student at F&M—one who actively pursues social interactions with at-risk communities.
“Alice has a sincere compassion for stressed socio-economic communities, especially the children, that are often burdened with public-health problems such as asthma, lead poisoning and poor drinking water,” Pepino said. “I am confident that Alice will meet this challenge with enthusiasm and achieve success in Guatemala while becoming a superb ambassador for the F&M community.”
Zients has already served as an ambassador for F&M through her work as a tour guide with the Office of Admission. She was also active as a member of the executive board of Chi Omega sorority and the senior class gift committee.
Now it’s time for a new chapter—one Zients hopes will be just as memorable.
“This will be the first time I’ve lived by myself. I’m not a very skilled culinary human being,” Zients said. “Giving up the small comforts of home will be hard, and it will be a test of my wits, but I’m excited. It will be a real adventure.”
Zients will provide updates from Guatemala throughout the year on her blog, “Alicia Goes Guate.”