“Magnificent Seven” Helps Communities in Charleston, W.Va.


“Magnificent Seven” Helps Communities in Charleston, W.Va.

April 11, 2018

Pictured from left: Shadae Headley (nursing), Samantha Mandell (PA), Amanda Caruso (occupational therapy), and Jeerawan Nilkamhang (nursing).

In March, a group of seven students from NYIT School of Health Professions traveled to Charleston, W.Va., where they met with members of a community overcoming the outcomes of systemic poverty including poor access to proper healthcare. The service learning trip, Communities on the Move: Partnering for Wellness and Empowerment, gave the students an opportunity to understand the challenges faced by underserved communities—and more importantly, to help solve those challenges.

The group, which included nursing, occupational therapy, and physician assistant (PA) majors, worked with community leader Pastor Matthew Watts of H.O.P.E. Community Development Center (CDC) in Charleston to develop the plan. Before leaving for their trip, the students met with Watts who explained the history of the community and their needs. This helped them prepare interactive workshops that were tailored to address emotional, physical, sexual, social, and environmental health needs for community members of all ages.


From left: Michael Giattini (occupational therapy), Amanda Caruso (occupational therapy), Shadae Headley (nursing), Samantha Mandell (PA), Faraiba Faqeerzada (PA), Jeerawan Nilkamhang (nursing), Tahia Syeda (PA), and Zehra Ahmed, PA-C, M.B.B.A., with Pastor Matthew Watts of H.O.P.E. CDC.

“The ultimate goal of the project was to engage NYIT School of Health Professions students in meeting the diverse needs of the community through interactive person-centered wellness and empowerment resources,” said Melanie Austin (B.S. ’00), O.T.D., M.P.A., assistant professor of occupational therapy, who organized the project with Zehra Ahmed, PA-C, M.B.B.S., assistant professor and chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies; Gabrielle St. Léger, Ed.D., dean of students; and Adrienne McNally, M.S., associate director of experiential education.

“I learned about the infrastructure of how a community functions and how we can target the fundamental beliefs of a community to improve their outcomes—medically, economically, and socially,” said PA student Tahia Syeda.

The group of seven students also walked away with a new respect for their future professions.


NYIT students at the wellness workshop at Recovery Point: Transition and Alternative Program for Women in Recovery.

“I’ve always felt like my purpose in life included being a catalyst for positive change,” said nursing student Jeerawan Nilkamhang. “Going on this trip solidified for me my beliefs about what I’m passionate about and why I’m going to nursing school.”

Added Shadae Headley, “This trip influenced my professional development by helping me find what I was meant to do as a nurse: to promote health, promote my career [the U.S. is experiencing a nursing shortage], promote education, and promote empowerment. This trip made me realize that after I graduate in May I want to keep this going.”

The project was so successful that there are plans to pursue it further. “We would love to continue our work with H.O.P.E. CDC. Knowing that the area has been labeled as an area of urban blight, we have great opportunities to work alongside the community leaders to help rebuild on many levels, incorporating our brightest students from not only health professions, but also other programs,” said St. Léger. “[Charleston] wants to be a model city to break the negative trends of urban blight, and I hope that NYIT can be a part of this history.”


NYIT students Samantha Mandell and Amanda Caruso lead a workshop on bullying prevention, empowerment and wellness for elementary school-age children at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Center After School Program.

The students were truly moved by this experience and it has left a lasting impression on them. The community in Charleston was also impressed by the students.

“Our NYIT School of Health Professions students were named ‘the magnificent seven’ by Pastor Watts,” said Austin. “We cannot say enough about our NYIT students—it’s difficult not to get emotional remembering how they were just being themselves and touching lives they never intended to.”