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Eckerd College alumna shares wisdom from overseas public health work with international relations students

By Grey Curcio '24
Published February 14, 2024
Categories: Academics, Alumni, Global Education, International Studies, Political Science
Professor and former student stand side to side in front of Florida landscape

Alumna Anna Kohler Smith (left) stands with her former mentor, Professor Mary Meyer McAleese. Photo by Grey Curcio ’24

Anna Kohler Smith ’06 stood before Professor of Political Science Mary Meyer McAleese’s International Political Economy class with questions.

Kohler Smith asked Eckerd College students about their study abroad experiences and how they had related what they’d learned in the classroom to on-the-ground participation. Maya Tschappat, a senior philosophy and international relations student from Kernersville, North Carolina, had traveled to Patagonia, Chile, over Winter Term in January. “My [education] helped me understand why things are the way that they are, because it’s very different from America …” Maya said. “Doing all the readings and learning about the economy helped me to understand the way that Chile works.”

Kohler Smith had returned to Eckerd on Feb. 5 to discuss international studies, political science and her own work in the public health field. After graduating with a degree in international studies, Kohler Smith went to Columbia University, earning a Master of Public Health degree. From there, she began working in public health education in the U.S. and abroad, focusing specifically on autism and women’s health.

Her latest project took place in Iquitos, Peru, where she was a project coordinator for Prisma ONG, a nongovernmental organization that worked to implement local HPV testing to prevent cervical cancer. The program was adopted by the Peruvian government in 2021.

During her visit to the Eckerd campus, Kohler Smith spoke to classes taught by McAleese, who had served as her mentor during her undergraduate education.

Kohler Smith had studied abroad while at Eckerd, spending a semester in Senegal learning about the ethnography of traditional healing methods. She said that experience put her in an entirely new state of mind when it came to studying and living abroad.

The public health educator encouraged students to get out of their comfort zones and enter new environments with the goal of interconnectedness. “It’s more important that you engage. It’s more important that you connect,” she explained.

Throughout her talk on Feb. 5, Kohler Smith emphasized the importance of engaging with the local community, explaining that she doesn’t believe any good political action can be done without understanding how community and economy relate. “If you actually want to see policy change and to do the kind of change that really would help with long-term outcomes,” she said, “you will need to know the political economy of the place.”

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