Back from Uganda: UVic co-op student Jessica Round

Science, Co-op

- Tara Sharpe

At UVic, learning extends well beyond the classroom. Through the university’s co-operative education program, students alternate terms in class with paid work terms in positions related to their fields of study.

Jessica Round recently completed her final term as an undergraduate student in biochemistry and will graduate this November. She aspires to be a physician. Before graduating from UVic, she described her own unique international experience "in the field" during a 12-week co-op placement in Africa last summer with the International Christian Medical Institute (ICMI), arranged through UVic’s Co-operative Education Program and Career Services.

In 2014, Jessica journeyed to Uganda to work for a children’s rehabilitation centre, a health administration education course and a rural HIV education program. She received two scholarships—Graham Branton Co-op Award; Thouvenelle Co-op Scholarship—that were instrumental in her decision to work in a developing country.

Thanks to this firsthand experience, Jessica is even more resolved to pursue medicine as a career but her eyes were also “opened to the differences between our medical system and theirs—to what they do with so few resources.”

She specifically recalls visiting a rural community in eastern Uganda, 50km from the closest health centre, to lead a community discussion about HIV and hygiene: “Even though they live in a country where HIV is prevalent, only a few people knew how HIV is passed on and how to prevent it. That’s when I understood the power of these scholarships from UVic.”

She also spent the day doing community outreach with one of the doctors from the nearest hospital. “I had not yet been fully immersed in that level of poverty. The water source was about a 15-minute walk from the village and it was part of a swamp right next to some operational train tracks. We watched as those giving the tour demonstrated their technique for collecting the water trying to avoid the oil slicks and swamp matter."

"We were told that the families will use that water as is, as it uses up too many precious resources to boil all their water before use. When touring the houses we would talk to the heads of the household and learn about some of their largest struggles. For most these were the lack of clean water, lack of close-by health facilities, and lack of money to buy needed items.”

“Seeing what they do with so few resources gave me a greater appreciation of everything I have.”

“Local business co-ops definitely help the bank balance, but this placement gave me advanced insight into medical practice, along with the rewarding feeling of helping with important international work.”

UVic has one of Canada’s largest university co-operative education programs with more than 3,200 placements each year, and one in three undergraduates participate in the co-op program. At UVic, every student is immersed in dynamic learning and many will first experience work in their chosen fields during placements such as this, as well as internships or participation in field schools, work terms within Canada and overseas study while at UVic.

Read more from Jessica on her blog

More on co-op scholarships and awards

More funding for students (President's Beyond Borders Fund)


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Keywords: international, student life, community, africa, co-op

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