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ASU students commit to action on pressing issues

Their efforts will be supported by Clinton Global Initiative University


Portrait of ASU student Anika Attaluri.

Anika Attaluri, a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering and global health, was chosen to participate in the 2022 Clinton Global Initiative University.

June 17, 2022

Arizona State University students Anika Attaluri and Maleka Abdi know firsthand the obstacles non-English-speaking and minority communities face when seeking health care.

Attaluri is a sophomore biomedical engineering and global health major and Abdi is a sophomore biological sciences and global health major. Both are in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. They are children of immigrant parents who for years have relied on their daughters to be mediators between them and their physicians.

“As untrained children, we couldn’t fully comprehend the information shared by the professionals, nor could we most effectively convey the concerns of our parents,” Attaluri said, adding that cultural and language barriers deterred their parents from obtaining routine care.

Attaluri and Abdi realized that they and their families were not alone in this predicament. Through research, they found that in the United States, only about one in 10 adults have proficient health literacy, with that number being even less among people in minority communities.

Those with limited English proficiency especially face cultural, language, economic and education barriers that prevent them from obtaining, understanding and implementing health information. They are more prone to medication errors, hospitalizations, premature death and misunderstanding health care benefit policies, Attaluri said.

This year, Attaluri and Abdi committed to starting a nonprofit organization called Jigsaw Health that focuses on increasing health literacy among minorities and eliminating disparities in health care in Arizona. They plan to organize free health education workshops, translate health information and resources into languages other than English and collaborate with ASU, Arizona’s Department of Health Services, Valleywise Health medical facilities and immigrant communities in the Phoenix area.

Attaluri and Abdi will receive support for their endeavor from the 2022 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), administered by the Clinton Foundation.

Their project, along with the projects of two other Barrett Honors College students, Savannah Prida and Emma Mickelsen, were chosen for this year’s CGI U program, which creates a dynamic community of young leaders who are committed to developing innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

To be considered for CGI U, students were required to submit a lengthy application outlining their solution to a challenge, called a commitment to action or CTA, and how they would carry it out.

Portrait of ASU student Maleka Abdi.

Maleka Abdi, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences and global health, is working with fellow student Anika Attaluri on a Clinton Global Initiative University commitment to action called Jigsaw Health. Photo courtesy Maleka Abdi

Prida graduated from ASU in May with a bachelor’s degree in social justice and human rights with honors from Barrett. Her CTA, called Saturday School: Growing Beyond the Garden, focuses on creating a program where South Phoenix community members can gather to attend workshops and skills training.

Mickelsen, a junior aerospace engineering major, is a co-creator of Uvitter Solutions, which focuses on developing a portable, reusable and user-friendly water bottle insert that helps prevent the spread of water-related diseases.

Students accepted to CGI U receive access to CGI U’s year-round social impact curriculum and mentorship from topic experts, the CGI U Annual Meeting — which is a free, three-day social impact conference – as well as access to engagement events and the broader Clinton Foundation staff, said Kelsey Samuels, Clinton Foundation deputy director of communications. 

“When we first heard we were selected to participate in CGI U, we were very thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to work with aspiring leaders and experts in a multitude of fields to achieve our goal of turning our commitment to action into a project that would impact our community and attempt to solve an issue we are both passionate about,” Attaluri said.

We asked Attaluri and Abdi about the CGI U application process, their motivations for establishing Jigsaw Health and what they hope to accomplish. Here’s what they had to say.

Editor's note: Answers were submitted jointly.

Question: How challenging was the application process? What made it challenging?

Answer: When we started our application, we were in the beginning stages of our project. We had a general goal regarding the impact we wanted to create, but didn’t have a solid model for executing it. Applying to CGI U provided us an opportunity to develop a solid framework for our project, as the application questions required us to look at our project from a different perspective and consider components of our project that we hadn’t before. Although the fact that we started from only an idea made the application challenging in the beginning, filling out the application was very helpful in creating a solid foundation.

Q: What motivated you to focus on public health disparities among minorities, low health literacy and the language barriers that impede health care?

A: Cultural and language barriers deterred our parents from obtaining routine care, and the repercussions of this lifestyle exacerbated their health. It wasn’t until recently that we understood the extent to which this situation is prevalent in communities of color.

To combat this issue and ensure the underserved population is receiving the competent medical care they deserve, we now want to mobilize our communities with the medical knowledge they need.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your participation in CGI U?

A: We hope that participation in the CGI U program will strengthen our professional and leadership skills. By taking part in seminars, we believe that we will improve our communications and public speaking skills, which will help us in our professional endeavors and careers.

Additionally, participating in the program will provide us the chance to lead a project on a large scale, and working with mentors and experts will teach us more about leading a group and guiding people when making social change.

Our goal (with Jigsaw Health) is to create a channel of communication between the patient and doctor to ensure the patient has no medical doubts and can overcome any hindrances to health accessibility. As we host programs, conduct workshops and spread resources, we hope to increase health literacy and empower community members with the necessary knowledge to be confident in their medical decisions, and therefore improve health outcomes among racial/ethnic minorities.

Anyone interested in supporting their initiative or getting involved may contact Attaluri at aattalur@asu.edu or Abdi at mabdi4@asu.edu.

Story by Barrett Honors College student Alex Marie Solomon.

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