Third-year biological sciences major Bhavesh Patel was awarded a $10,000 Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship on April 17, which will fund his youth tobacco intervention program in rural Gujarat, India. Up to 15 California college students are awarded the prestigious Strauss Scholarship each year, to fund year-long public service projects of their choosing.
Patel, born and raised in Orange County, has roots in Gujarat through his father’s family. The “slew of public
health burdens, including inadequate sanitation, lack of proper nutrition, and poor health resources” that Patel’s relatives experienced there partially inspired his project. During Patel’s high school years, he began volunteering in rural Dabka, Gujarat, at a small health clinic. Here, he began to notice the effects of widespread tobacco use in the village, especially among children.
“After numerous service trips and working with doctors over there, including six weeks last summer, I got a better feel for the village community and the public health burdens they face,” said Patel. “During my trip, I was surprised to see young schoolchildren emulating their parents with cigarettes in their mouths. It was around this time a few of our family friends from our village got diagnosed with oral cancers due to tobacco smoking.”
Patel set out to intervene in the village’s smoking culture, but knew that he had to be “resourceful” due to the lack of health workers there. Instead of relying solely on medical professionals to prevent tobacco consumption, he enlisted the help of local teachers and students to promote health literacy throughout the village.
Patel first heard of the Strauss Scholarship as a first-year at UCI, after Anna Tran, UCI’s most recent Strauss winner, was announced as a recipient.
“I was very intrigued by the idea of carrying out a year-long public service project and felt [the Strauss Scholarship] would be a good fit for the volunteer work I planned to do in Dabka,” said Patel. He applied for the scholarship early in his third year at UCI.
“Competing against students from some of the top colleges in California, I never expected to win, but was of course ecstatic to learn I was selected,” he said.
Patel will use funding from the scholarship to produce posters, pamphlets, training manuals, surveys and other health literacy materials for the program in Dabka. To keep the project sustainable within the village, Patel will also purchase computers for student leaders at the village school to design their own public health awareness campaigns. With the remaining funds, Patel will organize a village-wide health rally this summer in Dabka.
“My experiences volunteering in Dabka have solidified a goal of increasing access to healthcare for rural and underserved communities,” said Patel. “I hope to continue this endeavor as a physician, with perhaps an MD or MPH degree, addressing health disparities with my background in medicine and public health.”