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A student with diverse interests discovers a passion for helping others.

What do you do when you’re a college student who loves theater, biology, and writing, then discover passions for human rights work and international travel? If you’re Katie Jo Sloter, you concoct an eclectic course of study around a common goal—helping people build better lives.

Sloter’s academic and personal journeys have led her from the University of Iowa campus to the middle of historic changes in Chile to rural villages in India. Along the way, she’s learned to meld her diverse interests in uniquely effective ways.

It started with an acting job. As a first-year student, her interest in theater prompted Sloter to take a part-time job acting out patient scenarios for students in the Carver College of Medicine. But the other side of the script—diagnosing and treating disease—quickly captivated her.

At the same time, a political science course opened her eyes to human rights issues abroad. Sloter decided to spend her sophomore year in Chile, a nation building a democratic system while confronting a troubling past.

She volunteered with the human rights organization Donde Estas?, which documented stories of the “disappeared”—men and women who vanished under the regime of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The group fought to bring human rights violations to trial, even when they didn’t expect trials to make an impact.

“They were doing it mainly to be heard, and to let people know that there were others fighting on their behalf,” Sloter says. “I learned that sometimes fighting for an outcome is more powerful than the outcome itself.”

The experience brought history to life and exposed the young Iowan to the human impact of world conflict. Sloter, also a writer, was inspired by the power of the people’s words.

Returning to campus, she decided to declare a major in international studies with an emphasis in global health—a multidisciplinary program that’s a perfect fit for a driven student with wide-ranging interests.

“I’m in love with the international studies program,” Sloter says. “It’s exactly what an education should be—engaging and interdisciplinary.”

Sloter worked with the UI Center for Human Rights to create an experience that would blend her developing interests in medicine and human rights work. Last summer, she traveled to rural India for an internship program paid in part by the University’s Kenneth J. Cmiel Human Rights Funded Internships program.

Working with the George Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries, Sloter trekked from one village to another to meet with women and educate them about health issues like prenatal care and nutrition.

The experience taught her the importance of not just reaching out to help people, but empowering them to improve their lives, she says.

“I learned that the responsibility of change is on the community, but the burden of change isn’t on them,” she says. “Change really does come from the people within a country.”

Sloter hopes to attend medical school, perhaps pursuing a joint master’s degree in public health. She’s remains interested in theater, having declared a minor in theatre arts, and continues to pursue Spanish and political science, too.

“I love theater, but I think I can make more of a difference through medicine,” she says. “What’s amazing is that I’ve been able to pursue all of my interests as an Iowa student—and get a degree out of them.”

Story by Madelaine Jerousek-Smith; Photo by Tim Schoon

November 26, 2007


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