Coordinator of the Month: Sukhee Ramawickrama
Name: Sukhee Ramawickrama
Hometown: Rochester Hills, MI
College Attended / Major: University of Michigan/ Biopsychology & Cognitive Neuroscience, minor in Community Action & Social Change
HealthCorps School Placement: Brooklyn Lab School – Franklin K. Lane Educational Campus
Fun Fact: Since moving to NYC for HealthCorps two years ago, I’ve run a half marathon in each of the 5 boroughs!
Jeffrey Hartinger: How did you become involved with HealthCorps?
Sukhee Ramawickrama: My first introduction to HealthCorps was seeing Dr.Oz on celebrity Jeopardy raising money for the nonprofit. HealthCorps sounded incredible but I didn’t think much more of it at the time. Then, the summer between my junior and senior year of college, I was part of an incredible public health summer scholars program at Columbia and a member of my cohort had been working as a HC coordinator – he encouraged me to apply and I’m so thankful for that summer program for leading me to HealthCorps!
JH: What has been the highlight of your placement so far?
SR: For the past two years I(Sukhee Ramawickrama) have held a weekly cooking club meant to introduce students to culinary instruction, healthy cooking, and multicultural cuisines. This year, my students were invited to participate in a cooking competition sponsored by Family Cook Productions and Emblem Health. They created a Brazilian Feijoda (black bean stew) and a Thai Red Curry from scratch.
Both recipes used at least 5 vegetables and an informal poll of the audience showed that community members were much more likely to try cooking with more vegetables and making their own Thai curry! While it was fantastic to see my students inspiring change in others, it was also wonderful to hear them share with the audience that they themselves had grown to be less picky eaters and now enjoyed cooking at home.
Another wonderful moment for me this year was working with a youth leadership class and their teacher Mr.K implementing a youth-led action research project. The students investigated different research methods and issues in our school community and then conducted a research project to gather evidence and create a solution for improving the water fountains at our school. The district public health office heard about our project and visited our school to see the students present their project. They then connected us to a grant opportunity to purchase new water fountains for our school. We’re working on the grant now but the students’ research and proposal have set us up for a strong application.
JH: Outside of the classroom, what are some of the activities that you are involved with?
SR: While I(Sukhee Ramawickrama) love teaching, educating and forming connections with students outside of the classroom has proved to be incredibly rewarding. Other than the cooking club, for the past two years I have co-facilitated a Young Women’s Health Group, which has allowed me to mentor a group of strong young women, which has been an immense privilege. Also, our school-wide health fair is always a great event at Brooklyn Lab and a group of student leaders and I work together to plan a day of health and wellness on our school field for our entire student body. This event was a great way to engage all of our students to spread excitement about health!
JH: What do you plan to pursue after your service to HealthCorps is complete?
SR: Immediately after HealthCorps, I will travel to Sri Lanka to teach English on a Fulbright Scholarship. I’m so excited to continue working in the field of education and experience teaching abroad. After that, having been inspired by the nurses I’ve worked with at Brooklyn Lab’s the school-based health center, I hope to pursue a career in nursing. I hope to continue working to reduce health disparities working with either urban youth in schools or those affected by incarceration.
JH: What is one thing you have learned from your placement that you will be able to carry with you as you move forward in life?
SR: HealthCorps has taught me so many new things, I feel so grateful to have been given an opportunity to hold a job so meaningful and educational so early in my career. Out of the many lessons and skills I have learned, the one I will take most is our HealthCorps value of “Being present, having presence.” At the start of my time with HealthCorps I was so focused on implementing all of our program components I neglected to allow time to just “be” with my students. I found that in my first few months I was constantly implementing things but not always doing things with great consciousness.
As the year went on, I found that the quality time with my students in my office or the intimate conversations with them during clubs led to deeper trust. While it took more time, this helped me develop more effective programming for my students because I had greater insight into their needs and interests. Especially living in New York City, its hard to resist the urge to move at hyper speed and get things done quickly, but taking time to be present with those around me has allowed to me develop deeper relationships and fully appreciate every day. I know that prioritizing presence is something that I will continue to do, wherever life takes me.
We want to thank Sukhee Ramawickrama for her exceptional work and congratulate her for being this month’s coordinator of the month.