Staci Sutermaster: An advocate of access to healthcare for all
“Studying engineering helps you combine skill sets that can be applied across a variety of different fields. In my case, this has included the fields of public health, technology, and entrepreneurship. I have found this toolkit to be especially invaluable,” says Staci Sutermaster (’15 BIO E).
Since July 2016, Staci has worked with Lwala Community Alliance, an organization focused on holistic community development in rural western Kenya. Throughout her time at Penn State as an engineering student, Staci traveled to Africa multiple times to gain experience in international development. “It is my fifth time in Africa, and second time in Kenya. I continue to look for opportunities tied to social innovation and global sustainable development,” says Staci.
Her current role is the result of being awarded a Princeton in Africa fellowship with Lwala Community Alliance. The fellowship allows young alumni and graduating seniors from universities around the country to complete a year of service in Africa through host organization placements across the continent. The program offers the chance to develop professionally while being immersed in another culture. Fellows are enabled and empowered to inform, inspire, and engage their network of friends, family, and interested individuals about life and culture through their work in Africa.
Staci works with Lwala Community Alliance’s Monitoring and Evaluation team to measure the impact of programs spanning public health outreach, clinical care, economic development, and education initiatives. Her responsibilities include evaluations to help guide programmatic improvements, grant report writing, and the research and development of solutions to improve the interoperability of data management systems.
“I mainly focus on the monitoring of Lwala’s youth health programs,” says Staci. “I implement surveys, analyze data, and lead discussions on how the team can innovate programming to improve youths’ knowledge of life skills, sexual and reproductive health, and family planning.” Every day is a little different, and she enjoys the balance between working in the field and the office.
The community-driven model of Lwala’s programming caught her interest. “Witnessing community members actively participating in the design, implementation, and innovation of programs has been incredible. The work is truly inspiring, and I am confident it will achieve long-term impact,” says Staci.
During her time in Kenya, Staci has been able to integrate herself into the community in the North Kamagambo region. “Bridging different cultures is my favorite part about traveling,” says Staci. She adds that she always invests time to build personal relationships, forming meaningful connections and sharing insights. Gaining these new, unique perspectives has altered the way she approaches development challenges.
Staci, whose parents are also Penn State graduates, was a member of the Schreyer Honors College. She says having access to the Schreyer academic environment connected her to like-minded students and helped her develop as a leader. “I was also involved in the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship program,” says Staci. “That was one of the most memorable and impactful experiences I had when I was in the College of Engineering at Penn State.”
For now, Staci is drawing upon her work in Kenya to help shape her career path. “I believe that access to healthcare is a basic human right. Lwala is a shining example of how sustainable health systems and outreach can be accomplished in rural areas. As I continue to connect with communities that lack access to healthcare, my resolve to innovate healthcare systems strengthens. I am determined to create solutions to close this gap.”
After finishing her Princeton in Africa fellowship, Staci plans to pursue her Master of Science in Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she will study the design and implementation of health systems.