For Michael Aleman, all it took was a three-week trip to Haiti to change his life. The Northwestern senior fondly recalls his time volunteering with The CRUDEM Foundation as a “key experience that changed my life.” Aleman’s experiences abroad, as well as his work on campus, have shaped him to become an impressive figure in NU’s Global Health community and made him an individual that will go on to have real impact in the years ahead.
Michael entered McCormick School of Engineering as a biomedical engineer, but soon discovered a concentration that was better suited to his interests: mechanical engineering. He added a Global Health minor after discovering a passion for the topic towards the end of his freshman year.
The tasks he encountered in Haiti were simultaneously challenging yet quite simple, Aleman recalls. His goal was to investigate how effectively donations made to a Christian medical clinic in rural Haiti were being deployed. “I was so inspired by the fact that the head of the clinic was Haitian,” says Michael. “They were so committed to helping out their own people, and it was mind-blowing what they could do under such constrained circumstances.” Even with limited supplies and equipment, he explains, the clinic has been offering free or heavily subsidized care for over 40 years. His passion for looking into the development of medical systems and materials truly began during his time in Haiti, Aleman says. During his time abroad, he recalls saying to himself, “This is going to be my life’s work.” From that time on, Michael has pursued opportunities to help him on the path towards creating medical equipment and supplies for the areas in the developing world.
Back on campus, Aleman got involved with Northwestern’s chapter of Engineering World Health (serving as president in 2013) and Mission Outreach, where he takes part in extensive volunteer efforts. He went abroad in the fall of his junior year to Chile, where he was surprised by the modern health care system. “It revealed how medical care can be done differently and more efficiently,” Aleman recalls. “The US way isn’t the best way.”
While in Chile, he also discovered a valuable lesson for how to make the biggest impact when looking to help abroad: “You realize once you’re there that you have the most effect when you just say, ‘I can help, where do you need me?’” It’s the same lesson he found so important in Haiti, and one of the reasons he finds the field of global health so rewarding yet challenging.
Aleman’s interest in the effectiveness of healthcare has led to his newest project: applying for a Fulbright Grant to spend time in Indonesia after graduation. His project looks at the effect of increased healthcare spending in Bali and the relation of the increased hazardous medical waste to public health. The project will allow Michael to utilize the skills he picked up at Northwestern as well as his time abroad. “Indonesia will serve as a test-case for better waste tracking techniques,” Aleman states in his grant application. Applying for the grant has been an exceptionally meaningful process, says Aleman. His past experiences in the field of global health have led him this far, and it’s certain he will continue to impact those around him in the years to come.