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Anh Tran

Anh Tran

Ambition without borders

U student Anh Tran receives national Campus Compact award

By Rick Moore

July 11, 2008

She combines the ingenuity of an entrepreneur with the heart of a humanitarian. Throw in a healthy dose of energy and you have a student who...well, has the whole world in front of her.

University of Minnesota senior Anh Tran has found many ways to get involved beyond her studies. And one of her latest forays--founding the first-ever chapter of Biology Without Borders (BWB)--has earned her some elite recognition. She was recently named one of the five recipients of the 2008 Howard R. Swearer Student Humanitarian Award by Campus Compact. The award is given to students whose work shows an extraordinary commitment to improving their local and global communities.

Tran, along with a friend, launched BWB during the 2006-07 academic year as an organization akin to Doctors Without Borders or Engineers Without Borders. The purpose of BWB, she says, is to "offer students the opportunity to broaden their international perspective while providing them some financial support."

"We wanted to do something that Doctors Without Borders is doing that we can't," she adds, which is to offer a niche for students who have the interest in public health abroad but who don't have a medical degree.

At the culmination of that first year, three U students traveled to Bukoba, Tanzania, for about a month to volunteer at Kagera Regional Hospital. It was mainly "a trip to build the groundwork for future trips," Tran says.

Campus Compact

Campus Compact is a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents--representing some 6 million students--who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education.

As the only national association dedicated to this mission, Campus Compact is a leader in building civic engagement into campus and academic life.

For more information, visit Campus Compact.

Trip number two is just around the corner. Tran and five other students will be helping to set up a mobile diabetes screening camp in Bukoba. While diabetes gets less attention there than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, it is a big public health issue, nonetheless. The group will be assisted by two doctors from Minnesota with diabetes expertise--one from the University and one from Hennepin County Medical Center.

In addition, the team will be working with disabled people (through the Bukoba Disabled Assistance Project) who will be crafting special pins and bracelets with messages on how to prevent diabetes. The pins and bracelets will be sold in the United States to help raise awareness locally. The BWB delegation will also be volunteering at a hospital again and helping to rebuild orphanages.

The trip will be paid for with money earned from different avenues. Tran says that BWB's fund-raising activities have included selling hot dogs at the Metrodome, delivering phone books for Dex, selling roses for Valentine's Day, and hawking donated coffee and bagels to faculty and staff in the College of Biological Sciences (CBS).

Born in Vietnam, Tran and her family immigrated to the United States in 1991. She assumed her first student leadership role at an early age, serving as her seventh grade class representative for the student council. (She also fondly recalls being the one to read the announcements over the PA system to the entire school in seventh and eighth grade.)

At the University, Tran is pursuing a dual degree in neuroscience (through CBS) and psychology (College of Liberal Arts). She continues to be a leader, serving on the Dean's Scholars Program, the CBS Student Board, the Vietnamese Student Association, and the Fairview Volunteer Advisory Committee.

Tran is aiming for a career in medicine and public health, and will pursue a dual M.D./M.P.H. degree. While she wants to work in the United States, she also hopes for the opportunity "to take trips to developing countries and my homeland to see what's going on there, and also to help. There's so much more out there than [just] medicine in the U.S., so having that M.D./M.P.H. will give me that global perspective."

One of her proudest moments is a reflection of her belief that a good leader can bring out the best in others. She notes that one of the members of BWB was extraordinarily shy when he first joined, but "through the past year he's become the most active member."

The efforts of BWB students now are setting them up for further contributions later, says Tran. "If we're able to make a difference in this project as an undergraduate with no degree, our potential is even greater as doctors when we travel there again." The Swearer Award is given annually to five students who have been nominated by their college or university. Each award includes a $1,500 prize--$250 to support a program or organization the student has worked with and $1,250 for the student's professional development.

To read a Q&A with Tran, see the College of Biological Sciences' Student Spotlight.