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In Service to Health After the pandemic canceled his original internship, Blake Sanchez '23 went to work for the Virginia Department of Health and the Campus Kitchen at W&L.

sanchez2-scaled-800x533 In Service to HealthBlake Sanchez ’23

“My work with the Virginia Department of Health and Campus Kitchen has reaffirmed my passion for service and my desire to pursue a career that continues the opportunity for me to make a difference in other’s lives.”

~ Blake Sanchez ’23

Hometown: Gretna, Virginia
Intended areas of study: neuroscience, poverty and human capability studies

Q: What factors led you to choose W&L?

I knew I wanted to attend a small school with strong STEM programs. When I toured W&L, I immediately was drawn to the small classes and the sense of community. I was also drawn to the integrity of the community with the Honor System, a system that makes W&L unlike any other campus around the world. W&L is truly a very special place, and I am honored to be part of such an amazing community.

Q: What do you plan to focus on at W&L?

When I began college, I knew I wanted to pursue the pre-med track. Since I was a young boy, I knew that I wanted to pursue science. I have always had a thing for observing people and the world around me. I enjoy observing how individuals use their body language when communicating with others, how people talk to one another and how people carry themselves. I am fascinated by what makes each of us unique. I took the Brain and Behavior course during my first semester, and I was hooked. The following semester, I took Professor Bob Stewart’s Intro to Neuroscience class, and my choice of study became clear. I am thrilled to declare a major in Neuroscience in the coming months!

I have also had the pleasure of being involved in the Shepherd Program as a Bonner Scholar during my first year. From the very first days of my college experience on the Volunteer Venture Pre-Orientation Trip to this summer completing my Shepherd Internship, the Shepherd Program has been such an integral part of my first-year experience. The Shepherd Program is truly unique in that it integrates thoughtful conversations in the classroom and actions of service in the community to those in need. There is a reason why the poverty and human capabilities studies minor is the most popular on campus. I highly encourage every W&L student to at least take one poverty studies course and/or get involved with one of the many community engagement opportunities that the program offers.

Q: Were your summer plans impacted in any way by COVID?

This summer, I am completing my Shepherd Internship through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty. I was originally supposed to work as an addiction detox intern with Gaudenzia, an alcohol and drug addiction rehabilitation center in Coal Township, Pennsylvania. However, my internship was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, I was able to find both a remote internship with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and an on-campus position with the W&L Campus Kitchen.

Q: What kind of work have you been doing this summer with the Virginia Department of Health?

This summer, I am working alongside the State Office of Rural Health, Office of Health Equity and the Office of the Commissioner of Health. My work primarily consists of conducting research and gathering information on various areas of focus for the updated Virginia State Rural Health Plan. We are looking at how issues such as lack of access to broadband internet, lack of transportation, food insecurity, substance abuse, mental and spiritual well-being and the COVID-19 pandemic (among many others) are affecting the health of individuals living in rural Virginia. The research and work we complete this summer will be presented to the Virginia General Assembly. A new Rural Health Plan for Virginia will give us the opportunity to celebrate all the successes of rural Virginia and show that health is more than what happens in a hospital or at a doctor’s office.

Q: What kind of work have you been doing with Campus Kitchen at W&L?

As closures and social distancing orders intended to limit the spread COVID-19 have extended across the country, the impact has been felt especially in rural communities. While these changes are disrupting the lives of nearly all Americans, food-insecure individuals are taking the hardest hit. This summer, I and the Campus Kitchen Summer Team are working to help alleviate hunger in Lexington and Rockbridge County through the Backpack Program, Mobile Food Pantry and growing fresh produce in the W&L Campus Garden, along with partnering with many other nonprofit programs addressing food insecurity.

Q: What’s been the most rewarding part of this summer so far?

Outside of my remote and volunteer work, learning to live on my own with a group of friends has been the most rewarding. This has been the first time in my life where I have had to truly live on my own. I have been surprised by how much I enjoy cooking!

Q: Have your summer experiences reaffirmed or changed your plans for the future? How?

My work with the Virginia Department of Health and Campus Kitchen has reaffirmed my passion for service and my desire to pursue a career that continues the opportunity for me to make a difference in other’s lives.

Q: Has anyone on campus served as a mentor to you?

Professor Howard Pickett and the faculty of the Shepherd Program have been wonderful mentors. It has been such an amazing experience to learn about poverty in the classroom while engaging in service and intellectual conversations on campus and in the local community.

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More About Blake

Favorite shop/restaurant in Lexington?

What do you get there?
Carmel Latte

What’s your personal motto?
One person can make a difference.

What film or book do you recommend to everyone?
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

Favorite W&L event?
Mock Con Gala and Convention Weekend

What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I’m obsessed with Disney and Pixar movies! “Toy Story” is my favorite!

What have you missed most during the pandemic?
I have definitely missed spending time with friends and going out to dinner.

When you get back to campus, who is the first person you’ll want to see?
My friends!