Looking back, Northwestern senior Kingsley Leung can recognize the instincts that led him to the field of global health. As a freshman in Weinberg in the fall of 2011, his first choice seminar was titled “Who Discovered HIV”. Beyond that class, however, Leung had little knowledge or awareness of the field of global health. Leung was declared as a Neurobiology major, Music Cognition minor, and on the pre-med track. It wasn’t until a meeting with his pre-med advisor sophomore year, however, that Leung was introduced to global health opportunities at Northwestern. When discussing what to do during the upcoming summer, his advisor suggested he apply to the Public Health in China program.
Intrigued, Leung applied for and subsequently participated in the program during the summer before his junior year. The program piqued Leung’s interest in Global Health. “It was the first time I found myself really personally invested in what I was learning,” he says. Upon his return to the States for his junior year, Leung registered for Professor Noelle Sullivan’s Introduction to Public Health course. The class would spark an interest in the subject that has become a driving factor in Leung’s academic career, seeing the convergence of his medical background with the social factors that fascinate him. “The course was the first time a class really changed my perspective on the world and how I see things,” Leung says.
Leung hails from San Rafael, California, where he moved at the age of seven after spending his first years of life in Hong Kong. He ties his early years in Hong Kong partially to his natural interest in health, an appreciation he discovered during his time abroad. The program was split into two sections, with the first focusing on public health in China – epidemiology, the public health system, environmental health, etc. Leung found these topics interesting, but it was the second focus of the program, traditional Chinese medicine, that truly stuck out to him.
“Growing up in Hong Kong, treatments when I was sick weren’t always Western medicine,” he says. “There were ways of treating things – with herbs, massages, teas.” The combination of Western and Chinese medicine, sometimes at the same time, was a unique background for Leung to reflect upon many years later. Leung loved learning the theories behind traditional medicine and witnessing firsthand how the historical and cultural aspects of the country relay into medical practices. Weekly excursions to locations such as an herb mound further augmented the learning experiences. “They are such experts on this practice they develop,” says Leung. “Over the years, it’s amazing how different it is than here.”
Upon his return to campus, Leung’s interest in medicine continued to develop and nurture his passion for the human mind. “It’s fascinating to learn about how I’m learning,” he laughs. The neurobiology of learning is a growing field, and Leung wants to be a part of the generation that gets to develop the knowledge base and continue to answer the questions that appear with every experiment. His increased interest in global health parallels his passion for science that existed before his early days as a Wildcat. “You come to college thinking you know a lot – and you come out thinking the opposite,” he says. This desire for further knowledge drives his interest in global health. “I love the fact that I don’t know a lot about the world.”
This past summer, Leung expanded his experience even further while working on a project with Professor Michael Diamond. The team worked in conjunction with the public libraries in Skokie and Evanston to create a method of distributing health information. The idea was based off a model in France, Leung explains, that utilizes the inherent quality of libraries being sources of knowledge. The project aims to develop a health desk that will be open twice a week and staffed by Northwestern students that can provide a database of trustworthy health information to the public. They hope to help families in the area who might not have health insurance, or who struggle with literacy problems, get relevant information on the health concerns they might have. A summer of hard work showed the team that the project is much bigger than anticipated, says Leung. They will continue their efforts throughout this upcoming school year.
Leung pinpoints the importance of collaboration as the most important lesson of his summer. “Collaboration is very powerful. The project wouldn’t be possible without it.” In working with both libraries, a local hospital, and individuals at the Evanston Health Department, the team learned just how difficult but important creating access to health information is.
On campus, Leung serves as a volunteer at the Chinatown Health Clinic, helping translate for patients who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. It was a natural fit, he says, to use his language skills and interest in health to help others. Additionally, he tutors on campus through the Gateway Science Workshop (GSW) and Academic Mentoring Program (AMP) programs. His love for teaching has developed throughout his time at NU, never having been something he’d considered before college. But the opportunity to help other students in challenging courses such as General Chemistry and Biology is incredibly rewarding. “I found myself walking out feeling like I had made a difference in someone’s life,” Leung says.
Now, as he nears the end of his time at Northwestern, the important pieces of the Leung’s life – education, health, and science – have all been woven together through his on-campus involvement and academic discourse. In the future, Leung hopes to continue working globally and maintain his focus in health and education. He is currently in the process of applying for a Fulbright Grant to teach English in South Korea, as a way to spend his gap year before attending medical school. After almost four years at Northwestern, “everything ties together,” says Leung. “I never expected it to work out that way.”