Bonner feature: Gaby Spangenberg (C’14)

by Lam Ho
Executive Staff

During her sophomore year, Gaby Spangenberg (C’14) was offered an opportunity to be a component of a new program. The Bonner Leadership Service Internship Program had its first official class starting with the Class of 2016, but before then, Spangenberg took up an opportunity that she didn’t think was just yet “set in stone” and unexpectedly shaped the beginnings of the Bonner program as it was developed on campus — a highly important accomplishment for the Outreach Office and a life-changing experience for interns. Today, she is a coordinator for Volunteers in Medicine, a local free health clinic.

“The summer of my sophomore year, I stayed at Sewanee and tried to develop bigger projects after going to a conference with Dr. Peterman, Dr. McGrath, and Robin Michaels… Volunteering is a huge help, but I thought, ‘After I leave this place, what can I do to make sure it stays in place?’ Diabetes stood out because it’s a huge issue in the United States especially,” Spangenberg said. Her main project revolves around a Diabetes Education Program (for patients with Type II), which she works with the Health Council to plan. Inspired by Karen and Steve Wickham, who have developed a diabetes education program in parts of Middle Tennessee, the script for the course was created to educate and aid individuals about the common disease for free. A Bonner conference inspired her to push the boundaries of volunteership to create a sustainable program that would change the surrounding free health clinics for more than just the three years Spangenberg worked with them.

At first, volunteers came to the clinic to do paperwork and interact with community members in Winchester. Soon enough, Spangenberg reached out to the pre-med and pre-health students to build an internship opportunity within Volunteers in Medicine, Gaby’s project and opportunity to interact with non-Sewanee individuals within a clinical setting. A few months into her Bonner experience, she and her partners discovered another free medical clinic in Beersheba Springs, located in on top of the plateau in Grundy County. She loved both clinics, but the experiences varied: Beersheba Springs, a forty-five minute drive away, was a more isolated area with a new set of personalities within the work environment and the group of patients. As time passed, she became a coordinator and developed relationships with Dr. Debra McGrath, Dr. Richard O’Connor, Dr. Jim Peterman, Crystal Rahn (who works with her at the clinic), Dr. Tom Smith (C’71) , Emily Parton, and Tanya Garner.

In her blog post posted on Feb. 11, 2014, reflecting upon three years of Bonner work, Spangenberg writes: “I am proud to be a Bonner Leader and am so thankful for the unique experiences and opportunities the program presents. My work at the clinic gave me the opportunity to hear people’s stories and begin to understand their experiences, and the more I listened the more I shared their emotions, becoming enraged and thrilled alongside them.

My work as a Bonner Leader pushed me in a direction I don’t think I would have gone four or five years ago, introducing me to new ideas and thoughts about what I want to do with my life: pursue a life of service in public health.” Spangenberg is also the House Director for the Community Engagement House, a Senior Interviewer for Admissions, and a member of Theta Kappa Phi Sorority.

More information about the Bonner program can be found on <a href=””>the Community Engaged Learning Page</a>.