Josh Yudkin (left), AB ’11, has always felt empowered by being a part of something greater than himself. “It was the sense of community and contagious collaboration that drew me to WashU,” he says, reflecting on his decision to come to the university. Within a short amount of time, he grew inspired to give back on and off campus and to help cultivate those experiences for others. “I feel like we have a moral imperative to help one another, which is a core component of my internal compass.”
During his sophomore year, a friend and fellow WashU undergraduate recognized Josh’s drive to engage with community and pointed him to the Gephardt Institute’s Community Service Office where he discovered the Stern Social Change Grant. He considers the grant to be the catalyst that set him on a lifelong path of engagement. Through the Stern Social Change Grant, Josh embarked on a project to help remedy disparities in access to healthcare for a rural community outside of Chihuahua, Mexico. Working with the Guerrero Eye and Surgery Center, he organized an outreach program in the Sierra Mountains.
Josh and his team, comprised of clinic workers and other locals, conducted eye exams, delivered glasses, and took blood pressure and blood sugar readings for community members who didn’t otherwise have access to these services. In addition to conducting eye exams and distributing over 1,000 pairs of glasses, he interviewed participants, gathered data with IRB approval from the university, and presented a final report to the clinic in both English and Spanish. The report was used for promotional purposes and to develop strategies to improve the number of patients treated through improved pre-mission triage and clinic processes. “This experience taught me to be open and celebrate critical suggestions,” he shares, recognizing that “everyone brings unique perspectives and insight to the table.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in International Area Studies, focusing on Latin America and Spanish, Josh pursued a Master of Public Health at the Brown School, which led him to conduct fieldwork in rural Tamil Nadu, India the following summer. Afterward, he completed a graduate internship with the Papua New Guinea Embassy in Washington, DC, managing a team of interns looking at the Papua New Guinea healthcare system, which inspired him to keep returning to the operating room at the Guerrero Education and Surgery Center in Mexico where his Stern Social Change Grant project began.
Since then, he has gone on to work in a diverse array of fields that have allowed him to engage meaningfully with community on various scales. As a Chief of Staff at Hillel International, he focused on community building, civic engagement, and developing experiential programming for both students and professionals, noting that his “ability to build a team, manage a team, and produce high-quality initiatives was strengthened while developing and implementing the Stern Grant.” He also led a mission for the Joint Distribution Committee to Cuba and served as a United States delegate in The Third Generation Initiative, a coexistence and reconciliation mission to Germany sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and Allianz in collaboration with Germany Close-Up. Currently, he is completing his PhD in Epidemiology at the University of Texas, conducting research that looks primarily at access to care and health disparities, particularly among the Latinx community.
To Josh, civic engagement “is a public affirmation that you are part of a greater community and have both the opportunity and obligation to contribute positively.” He hopes that WashU students will listen to their own internal voices and visions, choosing a path that they are passionate about as opposed to following a prescriptive plan, and then collaborating with others to actualize their dreams.
Inspired by Josh’s story? The Gephardt Institute offers grant opportunities for initiatives that cultivate community engagement across St. Louis, the nation, and the world, an outgrowth of the Social Change Grant program. To learn more, visit the Civic Engagement Fund page on our website.