Roanoke College senior and public health major Andy Chitwood has been selected to serve as a student representative to the board of directors for the Virginia Rural Health Association.
The Virginia Rural Health Association (VRHA) is a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the health of rural Virginians by offering educational opportunities, disseminating information about rural health issues, and advocating for rural Virginia residents with local, state and federal elected officials.
Chitwood is the first Roanoke College representative to serve on the board and one of the few undergraduates to receive the honor. The board is otherwise made up of health care administrators, providers, educators and graduate students from across the commonwealth. His appointment will last for one year.
“Andy’s appointment to the VRHA board is an exciting indication of both his success and the growing reach of our public health programs at the College,” said Associate Professor Shannon Anderson, director of strategic health initiatives at Roanoke. “Being able to find opportunities for exceptional students like Andy, and opportunities that allow our students to reflect and act in meaningful ways, is among the most rewarding parts of what we do.”
In addition to his public health major, Chitwood is working toward a concentration in neuroscience and minors in Spanish and sociology. He is also a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, the national health pre-professional honor society, and leads the school’s club for students interested in health care careers. This summer, he is an intern with Dr. Jordan Darden, director of neurosurgery research at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. He learned about the internship from his neuroscience advisor, Assistant Professor Lauren Kennedy-Metz.
Chitwood hails from Collinsville, a small town in Southwest Virginia. He hopes that his background in a rural community will be valuable to the VRHA.
“I think that’s part of why I was lucky enough to be accepted,” he said. “It’s sort of unique to be able to share that kind of perspective and experience, and represent what rural health means to youth, not just adults.”
Anderson agreed: “Andy is the ideal student in this role: He grew up in rural Virginia, stayed in the region for his education, takes advantage of the many opportunities Roanoke College has to offer, and now has learned that there are ways he can bring all those things together to serve in unexpected ways.”
On June 12, Chitwood participated in the board’s annual retreat at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. There, he went through orientation and contributed to discussions about the Rural Health Voice Annual Conference and other issues. As a member of the Advocacy Committee, he will attend meetings throughout the coming year and help work with elected officials to understand how their decisions can impact health care for the 2.5 million people who call rural Virginia their home.
Chitwood said he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to apply for the role if not for his Roanoke College education and the connections he’s made through mentors such as Anderson and Kennedy-Metz.
“I’m grateful for everything from my professional development in general, which has allowed me to professionally speak about myself and what I’m passionate about, to the actual content I’m learning in classes,” he said. “I’m learning all these different statistics and information about how poor health is in Southwest Virginia. Being able to study it from an academic point of view has really helped me to be more knowledgeable in a professional setting.”