Junior Emily Wunsch set out on her path to excellence the summer after high school, when she took a year off from school and traveled from her hometown of Webster Groves, Mo. to Madrid, Spain, for an exchange program to live with a native host family for 10 months.
Ultimately, this experience would shape her entire life, and lead her to where she is now — recipient of one of the university’s Plastino Scholar awards.
The David A. Plastino Scholar Award, established by an alumnus in 2007, offers grants of up to $6,000 for university undergraduate students to pursue a worthy passion in an off-campus learning experience that they would be otherwise unable to do.
Wunsch will be using this grant to travel for three weeks this summer, to visit Latino community health centers in Long Beach, Calif.; Austin, Texas and Oklahoma City, Okla. She will spend one week at each location working with specialists in many different health fields.
She is hoping to follow up the trip by developing a health program for Latino individuals in Delaware after she returns. Wunsch had gone on mission trips before college, and these helped inspire her life changing trip to Spain where she discovered her passion for helping the Latino community medically.
“I became more aware of cultural differences between people in the United States and abroad,” Wunsch said. “I feel like you don’t fully realize how different people are until you’re living with a family, because you have to put everything you consider normal behind you and adapt to what they do.”
Upon returning to the United States, Wunsch was able to use her Spanish while volunteering at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. to help families who spoke little or no English. She realized how different the care is for people who can speak English fluently versus those who can’t. Wunsch said a lot of medical assistance gets lost in translation.
After witnessing this, Wunsch said she became interested in using her Spanish background and hospital knowledge to help Spanish speakers get better medical care. Unfortunately, Wunsch said, there are not a lot of domestic programs for this kind of activism.
She will spend her Plastino Scholar grant time shadowing doctors and public health workers. She will also be sitting in on classes at the public health centers she visits.
Wunsch said her parents are very supportive, but they used to think she had “all these crazy plans.” After her success with her study abroad and her Plastino Scholar Award, they now know to trust her decisions, Wunsch said. Her father will be coming all the way from Missouri for the Plastino Scholar dinner next week.
However, her interest in this field did not come from her parents. Her mother is a pediatrician and her grandmother coincidentally has a Master’s degree in public health with a Latino specialization, but neither Wunsch nor her mother knew this fact until after Wunsch became a Plastino Scholar.
While she originally wanted to go to medical school, Wunsch now wants to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and get a graduate degree public health and doctorate in physical therapy.
“That’s not a very common degree combination, but nothing I do seems to fit with what everyone else is doing anyway,” Wunsch said.
Whatever she ends up doing, Wunsch said ideally, she will work solely with Spanish speakers to provide health care without the language barrier and think about cultural differences. Wunsch said being a Plastino Scholar should hopefully help her narrow down what she wants to do in the future.
Between her job as a tour guide for the university, her position as treasurer of the American Chemical Society and her interest in running, Wunsch also does research at Christiana Hospital and at the university. At Christiana, Wunsch does public health research on tobacco cessation and hypertension in the African American community in Wilmington; on campus, she researches the prefrontal cortex of the brain. She is always on the move, but she likes it that way.
“I’m happiest when I’m busy,” Wunsch said. “I’ve always been that person that liked to do everything, so hopefully through this experience I’ll be able to focus more on one area.”