2017 Grant Award: Sumit Pareek

There are over 200 definitions of the word "urban." Each country's characteristics, culture, politics, and agenda define the impact that generates positive health in urban cities. The topic of urban health is a grandiose one; it includes a broad intersection of disciplines that can ultimately create change towards our greater, global population.

Last week, I traveled to Coimbra, Portugal. Coimbra is a city just two hours north by train from Lisbon. There are a multitude of learning experiences that one can attain from studying abroad. Because I was attending a conference focused on topics that could enhance the progress of my research, the experience was more professional. I spent most of each day attending the conference, and a few hours of the day exploring the location, if possible. Representing my research group, the university, the United States, and a significant issue grounded under engineering design, I learned quite a lot during my first time alone in a different country.

I was a poster delegate for the 14th Annual International Conference on Urban Health. I met a wide range of influencers in a wide range of industries. Social science professors, health activists in policy, urban health professors, physicians, graduate students, urban designers, climate change enthusiasts, authors, mayors, epidemiologists, architects...the list goes on. I felt that the experience was concentrated within such a short time that each moment stretched my perspective and added a dimension of learning that enhanced my professional understanding of many fields of urban health. My exposure to the culture was facilitated by the wonderful events organized by the conference. These events included a hands-on urban place making workshop, a seminar discussion on large-scale European urban health projects, and a final conference dinner at a grand palace that once housed Portuguese royalty.

Coimbra is an interesting city, as it is heavily influenced by its local university. Fully operational in 1537, Coimbra University is a root of culture and education as one of the oldest yet most metropolitan university in the Europe; it's work has impacted the world in science, humanities, art, medicine, and more. Having the chance to visit the university gave me a greater perspective as a student. I learned to wear two hats on this trip: one as a student, and one as a researcher. Though they were not mutually exclusive (let's say one hat with two different qualities), I matched an ethos to each conversation. These continual conversations matured by young, idealistic view of global health.

Being surrounded by public health all-stars is both challenging and inspiring. I had the opportunity to hear advice and learn from professionals focused in all areas of research. The ability to gain the interest of a professional in either a different field or a very similar field to start collaborating on projects is the essence of an academic conference. What made the conference so valuable to me was that, regardless of everyone's background, people were sincerely interested in learning about cutting-edge advancements in urban health.

My experiences from this conference validated that the unconventional career I aspire for exists and is attainable. I made friends from other countries, found mentors with years of wisdom, and met professionals from prestigious institutions. The personal and professional development from this week was tremendous, and each nuance and memory was a valuable one. Because of generous funders such as the PLA, I have a completely new world perspective and understand how great one's impact can be as a global citizen. From the core, I thank you very much for assisting me in attending this very rare opportunity. If I were able to tell my high school self that I would embark on this trip as one of the very few Bachelor's students in the world, I would be speechless. I have lived a week in a setting, mindset, and city that I will remember forever. I truly believe that experiences are dynamic because we mold them in the aftermath through reflection and critical thinking. This experience has given me a sense of moral clarity and career direction that I can reflect upon forever. Thank you.