Alumni weekend highlights health and community

A recent alumni gathering in New York included the second Gates Cambridge Memorial Lecture and panels connecting health, community and the arts.

Gates Cambridge alumni gathered in New York City earlier this month to explore a diverse range of research and work connecting health, community and the arts. 

The weekend gathering took place from 4-6 October and included a Gates Cambridge Alumni Symposium at New York University and the second annual Gates Cambridge Memorial Lecture, given by Leana Wen, MD, MSc, FAAEM.

The alumni symposium included two panels featuring Gates alumni from 2003 to 2017 that focused on the work alumni are doing to address social and health disparities in their communities.

The first panel, entitled Accessing Health: Frontlines in Local and Global Outreach, was chaired by Alexander Fabry [2009] and included a discussion with Gina Murphy [2009, 2010], Robert Clay Rivers [2003], and Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez [2015]. These alumni discussed topics ranging from the challenges of major global health funders in deciding where to allocate funds; the funding of underrepresented minorities from high school students all the way to early-career scholars; and facilitating creative programming with marginalised communities that focused on their needs and interests.

The second half of the Gates Symposium, Narrating Health: New Approaches from Arts & Advocacy, showcased how four Gates alumni use creativity to improve health and advocacy in their communities. The segment was chaired by Gina Murphy and included presentations from Kevin Beckford [2011], Erica Cao [2013, 2017], Alessandra Colaianni [2013] and Neha Kinariwalla [2015]. The four alumni drew from their experiences to highlight the importance of using language that speaks to underrepresented students’ lives, experiences and persistence in the face of adversity and to illuminate the stories and perspectives of patients and doctors to change health narratives.

Afterwards, alumni were invited to an evening reception at the Tenement Museum for the Lauren Zeitels Keynote Lecture: a lecture created in 2018 to bring alumni together in celebration of Lauren Zeitels’ life and her contribution to the Gates Cambridge community. The lecture serves as an opportunity for alumni to honour community members who have passed since leaving Cambridge, while hearing from leading figures committed to "improving the lives of others”.

This year’s Memorial Lecture was given by Dr Leana Wen: an emergency physician, public health leader, and passionate advocate for patient-centred healthcare reform. Dr Wen was named one of TIME 100’s Most Influential People in 2019 and previously served as President/CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and as the Health Commissioner for the City of Baltimore. Her keynote, “Lead with Courage: Improving the Health of Communities Through Advocacy, Access, and Equity", pointed to three ways in which she, in her own career as a public health leader, has strived to bridge disparities to improve health in local and global communities.

This year, the memorial lecture was dedicated to Gates Cambridge alumna Dr Silvia Breu (1976–2018; 2005).  Silvia, who did a PhD in Computer Science at Cambridge, took up a postdoctoral position at Christ Church, Oxford, before returning to Cambridge where she taught at Queens’ College. She was an active presence on the Cam rowing, coaching and inspiring others.

Gates alumna Brielle Stark [2012] said “I always admired her dedication to improving not only the rowing of her crews but also the crew's mental well-being and positive outlook. She brightened the Cam every day. She made a difference in so many people's lives through her dedication to rowing, including my own.”

Karen Duffy [2016], a current Gates Scholar who rowed under Silvia, wrote: “The quality that sticks with me most about Silvia was her joy for life and how she always seemed intensely present in the moment. She loved what she did, and it showed every day. I feel immeasurably grateful to have known her. She lives on in the courses of the many lives she altered.”

Organised by the Gates Cambridge Alumni Association, the New York alumni gathering and Memorial Lecture was one in a series of events offering scholars and alumni globally the chance to gather, reconnect and learn from each others’ work.  

*Report by Alex Kong.