UM-Flint CFR officer volunteers in Dominican Republic


To get to Batey Olivares, Becky Pettengill traveled down a dirt road, through acres of sugar cane fields.

The tall stalks swayed in the dry wind of the Dominican Republic. She and the clinical team passed brightly colored dwellings housing the sugar cane workers and their families, and arrived at the tiny community church, where they set up their mobile medical clinic.

During their week in the Dominican Republic, Pettengill and the Midwest Medical Mission team saw more than 450 people in various communities across the country.

One of the women seeking medical service waited for hours with her five children, each of whom needed some kind of treatment. One child had parasites, another had an infected wound on his arm, and another had an ear infection.

“The team is providing fairly basic medical treatment but the people really need it. They don’t have clean water or easy access to medical care and so simple problems can become very serious,” says Pettengill, who works as the corporate and foundation relations officer at UM-Flint.

Becky Pettengill volunteers at a free clinic outside a school in the neighborhood of Santa Fe in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Maureen Tippen)

In Pajarito, she helped mothers waiting under a rooftop extended off a shed fill out their intake paperwork.

“It takes time to think in a different language, and over time, my Spanish medical vocabulary has grown. It’s a great opportunity for me to keep my language skills up,” says Pettengill, who just completed her 16th annual service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic.

Pettengill first found out about the program in 1996 from faculty members who came into her office at UM-Flint’s Development and Alumni Relations office. The faculty members were seeking external funding for their trip and, upon learning that Pettengill had studied Spanish in college, invited her along.

Pettengill now helps with a course at UM-Flint called “International Academic Service Learning in the Dominican Republic.” It gives UM-Flint nursing students the opportunity to experience a different culture and hone their assessment skills.

“When they’re working with people in the field they learn to assess a patient without the same amount of verbal information and feedback,” Pettengill says.

Many of the students on the trips haven’t traveled outside of the country, Pettengill says. “This is sometimes their very first trip anywhere that’s different from their hometown, and it’s really rewarding to see the impact of a new experience.”

“I love getting to know our Flint students on these trips,” Pettengill says. “It reinforces the importance of our work as fundraisers and allows me to speak with confidence about the quality of the university experience.”

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Her job takes her into different aspects of UM-Flint, from attending community meetings to helping faculty prepare proposals for corporate and foundation support.

She works heavily with the local foundations and corporations like the Ruth Mott Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy.

Pettengill enjoys most the diversity of projects she’s involved with, which may be a fourth-grade writing program with Flint school children, a student-run free clinic at the local soup kitchen, or sickle-cell anemia research with the city hospital. Recently, she’s been working to raise funds for an interdisciplinary clinical simulation center.

Pettengill is a winner of the MiCC Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award for 2014. The award is the highest honor given to university faculty or staff by the Michigan Campus Compact, a coalition of college and university presidents committed to fulfilling the public purpose of higher education.


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