Kelao Charmaine Neumbo Serves as an Integral Intern at Rochester Healthy Community Partnership

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Kelao Charmaine Neumbo (’22) poses for a headshot. Photo courtesy of Kelao Charmaine Neumbo (’22)

For Kelao Charmaine Neumbo (‘22), Luther College is home. However, she has spent the last few months doing comprehensive global health work in Rochester, Minnesota. Despite missing her home, Neumbo has been able to help underserved communities receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Neumbo, who is double-majoring in biology and global health, serves as an intern at the Rochester Healthy Community Partnership at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School. Neumbo’s most recent project, which is being completed through the Luther College Rochester Semester program, has helped her realize the significance of the work that her colleagues are doing. 

“I think people don’t realize how important each of our roles are in terms of achieving health equity,” Neumbo said. “I think this organization — and what the doctors are doing from Mayo Clinic — they are doing very important work. The stats are saying that people of color, immigrant, and minority communities are two-to-three times [more] likely to die from COVID-19, and they are not getting access to vaccinations for multiple reasons. There are some people who are undocumented, and that can prevent them from getting their vaccine. What we’re doing here is saying ‘hey, that should not be a barrier for access to healthcare, especially during this pandemic.’”

Neumbo has been working on getting clear messages to underserved communities about the COVID-19 vaccines, as there is a lot of conflicting information online. Neumbo also created a sign-up tool for vaccination appointments which was shared with those in Rochester and the broader county, who also started using the tool she created. She helps with vaccination clinics by helping sign people in, ensuring all of their details are correct, and setting up second vaccination appointments. 

Instructor in Biology Gwen Strand got to know Neumbo when she was hired as a lab prep assistant for Strand last fall. 

“She had such a curiosity, and was able to learn whatever techniques we were doing and do them well,” Strand said. “She has a lot of poise, I would say. She’s a leader in the student senate … and she has such leadership qualities already within the student body. I was very impressed with her all around.” 

The Rochester Semester Program is in its second year at Luther College. This program allows students to experience an immersion internship, working around 20 hours a week and getting college credit for their positions. 

Neumbo’s internship focuses on community-based participatory health research. Associate Director for Integrated Academic and Career Development and Professor of Biology Jodi Enos-Berlage is the Rochester program director. Berlage worked closely with Neumbo while trying to find her internship and thought that the Healthy Community Partnership was a perfect blend of her majors and areas of interest. 

“It’s engaging with the community; it’s serving the community; it’s working with the community in terms of various aspects of their healthcare,” Enos-Berlage said. “From everything that I knew about Charmaine … all the community-based work that she has done within the Luther community and outside the Luther community in Decorah, and her interest in advocacy — [the internship] just popped out to me.”

From her work on the student senate to being the current president of the International Students and Allies Association, Neumbo’s passion for helping others has led her to leadership within the Luther and Decorah community. 

Despite being an integral part of the work that Rochester Healthy Community Partnership does, Neumbo remains humble and shared that just being able to be a part of the vaccination process has been fulfilling.

“Just being able to contribute — we’re already contributing [by] washing our hands and wearing our masks, which is great — but I feel extra special being a part of this process,” Neumbo said. “Being able to do what I can is extremely rewarding.”

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