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Health Equity Scholars Program: Nutrition Lessons with the Detroit Food Academy

The Health Equity Scholars Program (HESP) is a student organization here at the University of Michigan Medical School with the primary goals of building collaborative community partnerships, addressing health inequity, and providing educational opportunities for students. We hope to create sustainable change, meaningful partnerships, and prepare future leaders to work in the health equity space. Our main community partners are Peace Neighborhood Center (PNC) located here in Ann Arbor and Detroit Food Academy (DFA) in Detroit. Under the guidance of our faculty mentor Dr. Brent Williams, our leadership team is filled with M1s working to arrange educational seminars for our peers, create new community partnerships, and foster existing ones. Pictured below is our phenomenal leadership team (on Zoom of course)!

HESP 2020-21 Leadership Team: Lucy St. Charles, Shriya Suresh, Lahari Nandikanti, Morgan Bradford, Rachel Croxton, Trisha Gupte, Annika Brakebill, and Sadhana Chinnusamy

Recently, in collaboration with Detroit Food Academy (DFA), we hosted seminars on nutrition for students in DFA’s after-school cohorts. DFA was founded in 2012 and is a 501(c) non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring young Detroiters to explore the culinary arts and food entrepreneurship. HESP’s long standing relationship with DFA has historically involved UMMS medical students running annual health education days for DFA students each summer. In July 2020, these health educational sessions were adapted to a virtual setting for the first time. Upon receiving positive feedback from students on this virtual experience, our incoming leadership team was eager to expand upon our relationship with DFA and explore opportunities to deliver a session to students during the school year for the first time.

Through administering a survey to the after-school cohorts at DFA, we learned that students were extremely interested in learning more about the nutritional contents of the foods they cook with each week. To address students’ interests, we created an interactive educational session on nutrition for the virtual setting. We held three of these lessons in the month of January, and with each one, cultivated an immense amount of gratitude for the conversations we had with the incredible students of DFA!

Every DFA session begins with a check-in; music selected by the teachers and students plays in the background to ease the awkwardness often associated with the beginnings of Zoom calls. For our first nutrition session, we couldn’t help but sway along to the beat of an already personal favorite of ours, “Do It” by Chloe x Halle, alongside the DFA students and facilitators. Next, we each described how we were feeling that day and then answered the question, “What are positive and negative ways in which you cope with stress?”

Following this check-in, we kicked off the lesson by asking students to come up with their own definitions of nutrition. In just a few short minutes, our conversation centered around what the foods we eat do for us. To delve deeper into how different nutrients work to nourish our bodies, we covered examples of macro- and micronutrients. For each nutrient, we talked both about how it works in our bodies and about what types of foods the nutrient can be found in.

A slide taken from our nutrition presentation highlighting the macro nutrients

Perhaps the most engaging and exciting part of our lesson was the portion covering what variety in nutrition can look like. We asked students to think about three meal items they would include in a healthy plate and created a word cloud with all of the foods they came up with. Here is an example from one of our sessions included below!

Word cloud created by DFA students when asked to about a healthy plate

After reflecting on the word cloud in each lesson, we found that Western foods like grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, and roasted carrots tended to take up the most space. With each lesson we discussed how there could always be more room for variety in the ways we envision what a healthy plate looks like. To explore this topic further, we asked students to identify differences in nutrition guidelines from around the world. We also shared a resource we came across called The Institute for Family Health, which showcases a series of healthy plates from different countries.

To wrap up our lesson, we asked students to reflect on what nutrition looks like in their lives. This part of the lesson was especially exciting as we greatly enjoyed hearing about the different types of foods students have been loving recently. In thinking about the different macro- and micronutrients included in these foods, we helped students apply topics from the lesson into their everyday lives. Additionally, we also gained inspiration for many new foods we now want to try!

Creating Impact through the Luke Clinic Baby Book Project

I started volunteering at The Luke Project 52 Clinic at the beginning of the Branches curriculum, during my 3rd year of medical school at the University of Michigan. One of my good friends and recent alum, Dr. Meghan Rowe, had chosen the clinic for her continuity site, so she would make the drive every other week for her last two years of medical school. Living in Detroit for a month-long rotation with the Detroit Public Health Department, I decided to join in one day and see if I could help out. I realized immediately how incredible this organization is. The Luke Clinic was founded to address the high rates of infant mortality and health disparities in Detroit and surrounding areas. They offer free prenatal, postpartum and infant care to any family in Detroit, and most patients are under- or un-insured. The cornerstone of Luke Clinic’s philosophy, which the clinic co-founders Brad and Sherie Garrison emphasize, is the relationships providers build with the families that visit. The clinic seeks to offer support and care for new parents at what can be an incredibly transformative and vulnerable period in someone’s life.

The Luke Clinic Mobile Van – photo credit to Meghan Rowe.

The clinic noted that, due to limited access to medical care, some children may go months to years without regular check-ups. When they do see health care providers, factors such as housing instability make it challenging for children to stay within the same health care system, and it can be hard for providers in different systems to closely monitor child growth and development. Pediatricians keep track of children’s growth and development, including meeting milestones such as having a social smile, learning to say some words, or sitting independently. When health care providers notice a child may be behind in one or more developmental milestones, early interventions can make a big impact to ensure that children grow to their full potential.

To address this need, Dr. Rowe started working on the Luke Clinic Baby Book for her capstone project. She talked with new parents and staff at the clinic to create the very first prototype – an illustrated book with space to keep track of basic health information such as height and weight, educational information for parents on developmental milestones, and plenty of space for pictures to make the book fun. After her graduation, since I loved visiting Luke Clinic so much, I continued this project as part of my Capstone for Impact (CFI) in the Branches. I have been able to bring my creative experiences from every step of my education into this project.

Some pages we designed for the Baby Book.

As a high school newspaper editor, I spent a lot of time working with Adobe InDesign and was thrilled to transfer the book into InDesign to create a visually appealing and beautiful workbook. As an engineering major in college, I took many classes with our school’s design department and utilized many of these design skills in development of this book. As a medical student applying into pediatrics, I have learned so much about child growth and development, and the common challenges new parents at the clinic face, incorporating this knowledge into the book using accessible and plain language. I’m thankful that CFI supports the opportunity to take creative risks. My process of developing the book included printing out Meghan’s first prototype, seeking user feedback by talking with new parents waiting in the Luke Clinic lobby, and meeting with nurses, doulas and physician staff at the clinic to identify needs. I then got the chance to create and illustrate the health education materials and re-organize the book for a second prototype.

Each member of the health care team offered important thoughts on how to make this book relevant and useful. New parents were excited to have space for baby pictures, to write down their questions and keep track of important phone numbers. They wanted information on how to feed their baby in their early days and when to call the doctor. Clinic staff and providers shared thoughts on how to present health education materials in a way that was accessible but not scary— for example, while the average child will pull up to stand by age one, it is not unusual for a one-year-old to still be learning this skill. I hope to translate this book into Spanish and Arabic for the clinic’s families, print it to be both durable and enjoyable to use, and distribute it to new families at the clinic. I would like to evaluate how families use the book in the future and would also very much love to share the digital file with anyone else who may be interested in this resource!

Supporting Detroit’s Youth: Social Justice During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On the night of March 12, 2020, Governor Whitmer announced Michigan K-12 schools would close for the next three weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak. At this time, I was serving as a FoodCorps Service Member during a year off before medical school, and I was teaching pre-k through elementary aged students nutrition, cooking and gardening lessons. I had just led a lesson on the importance of handwashing to two of my preschool classes, which included story time, a handwashing dance by UNICEF, and practicing washing together while singing Happy Birthday. Little did I know this would be the last time I would see my students for a long time and, looking back, I cannot think of a more fitting last lesson.

These are some pictures from my final lesson before the school closures. Students learned the importance of handwashing and practiced good handwashing hygiene together!

Soon reality began to sink in: schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year. This would affect my students’ education, social lives, safety and even nutrition. Many of my students relied on the school for their breakfast and lunch each day, and 20 percent of Detroit Public Schools students even had dinner at school. School closures as a result of the pandemic would jeopardize both my students’ access to meals as well as education, once again disproportionately affecting underserved minority populations.

With these dramatic changes in my students’ lives and with more than three months of the service term remaining, I needed to brainstorm creative ways to continue teaching and serving my students and their community. 

At first, helping with breakfast and lunch bag packing and distribution was the most logical way to continue serving. Admittedly, this was scary, especially at the start of a global pandemic when there were still many unknowns about the virus, rate of spread, necessary PPE, etc. Each day during distribution, I was interfacing with numerous lunch services staff to pack the breakfast and lunch bags and then countless more families during distribution. While my thin food safety mask and gloves didn’t seem safe, I knew I was in the right place doing the right thing. We passed out meals to entire families for half a week at a time, and the appreciation on the parents’ faces is what kept us going! 

Then in April, as the pandemic heightened and packaging sites closed, I transitioned to working in my school’s garden. Earlier during my service term, I had participated in Keep Growing Detroit’s Urban Roots Program, where I learned how to create a design for my school’s up-and-coming garden and how to mobilize the necessary resources to literally bring the garden to life. Upon my completion of the Urban Roots Program, my school was enrolled in the Garden Resource Program and began receiving free seeds and transplants every season. That spring, I picked up many transplants including bok choi, collard greens, dinosaur kale, winter boar kale, broccoli and mixed lettuce. Using the skills I learned over my service term, I grew all the transplants into fresh produce and donated it all to Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Detroit. 

Here I am watering my newly planted transplants and holding up bags of all of the harvested produce to be

In addition to growing produce, I also used my garden space to create virtual lessons so that my students could continue learning from home. Searching for an effective medium to share my lesson content, I created a Youtube channel: Miss Sanaya’s Nutrition Lessons. For someone who has always struggled to tap into my creativity, creating Youtube videos proved to be a challenge. Additionally, I had never made professional video content before and creating videos ALL alone due to social distancing constraints added another layer of difficulty. However, knowing that my students and families could benefit from this content really pushed me to brainstorm and get to work filming! 

Quickly, my garden became my safe haven. I could spend hours working in a safe and peaceful outdoor space and know that despite the limitations of the pandemic, I was giving back to my community in my own way. Gardening was the perfect way to both remain active and fight back against the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and hunger in Detroit. Read about my tips for first time gardeners here (although I’m no expert!): Tips to Grow Your Own Food From an Expert Gardener

When I started at the University of Michigan Medical School in the summer of 2020, after completing my term with FoodCorps, I knew I wanted to continue serving the kiddos of Detroit. When our incoming M1 class wanted to fundraise for a Black-led nonprofit in light of George Floyd’s murder, I quickly pitched Auntie Na’s Village. Auntie Na has been rehabilitating her neighborhood, on the corner of Yellowstone and Elmurhst on the west side of Detroit, for years while simultaneously fighting racism. She has created a safe space for kids to eat, play, learn and grow. However, during the pandemic, her neighborhood and many others in Detroit were disproportionately affected. During this time, the Village spent the majority of their funds creating and delivering food packages to families in need. Although Auntie Na had dreamt of building a new play structure for the kids to play outdoors safely, she no longer had the means. 

In the spirit of supporting the Black community of Detroit, I led our class to raise $15,000 to build this new play structure. In a community where parks, schools and other vital services have been defunded, our class was able to take a step towards tackling health disparities and social injustice by fostering a healthy and safe space for the children of Auntie Na’s Village to play. 

As an aspiring health care professional, I believe it is my duty to uplift communities around me by advocating for those whose voices are silenced. I plan on continuing to give back to the Detroit community through social justice-driven service work throughout my time at Michigan.

One Semester in Detroit: The Henry Ford Health System Clinical Rotations

Hi, I’m Ione and I’m writing today about the six-month Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) rotation block!

I initially decided to participate in the Henry Ford Health System rotation block because I had come to medical school knowing that I wanted to engage deeply with health disparities, and I wanted to make health disparities a focus of my M3 Branches curriculum. Although I’ve loved my rotations at UofM, I knew I would learn some different lessons about health disparities by rotating at HFHS, and especially at the HFHS main hospital, which is a safety net hospital serving the Detroit area. I applied to participate over the summer of my M2 year, and started my first rotation in January of my M3 year.

Exploring Eastern Market in Detroit! On Saturdays, Eastern Market hosts an enormous farmers’ market. One Sunday every May, Eastern Market hosts “Flower Day,” which is a huge farmers’ market all for flowers.

For my six months at HFHS, I moved to Detroit and lived on campus at Henry Ford Hospital in an apartment building especially for students and residents. I had six, one-month rotation blocks: one month each of Ambulatory Care, Labor and Delivery, Trauma Surgery, and the Medical ICU, and two research blocks.

My rotations at HFHS spanned a broad spectrum of clinical care contexts. I found that on each of the services at HFHS, I learned something different about how clinicians are working to meet the health needs of the city of Detroit.  For example, on my Ambulatory Care rotation, I spent time at four different Federally Qualified Health Centers around the city of Detroit. On this rotation, I learned a lot about just how diverse FQHCs can be with huge variation in organizational structures, challenges at each clinic, funding streams, and patient populations. (I also met many inspiring clinicians passionate about delivering great primary care during this rotation!)

My Labor and Delivery rotation taught me a lot about the migration patterns that are bringing young people and families to Detroit right now: I routinely met patients from Mexico and Latin America, as well as Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Bangladesh, and I gained a better appreciation of the specific needs of immigrant patients. Each of these rotations taught me something different about health disparities, and efforts to address and reduce health disparities, in the context of Detroit.

Trying out Detroit Style Pizza!

Living in Detroit was itself another amazing part of the HFHS rotation block! Students who had completed this rotation before me gave me a list of great things to do to explore Detroit. While I was there, I added my own favorite places to the list. For anyone wanting to learn more about Detroit, here’s a list of recommendations:


Taqueria el Rey

Mi Pueblo

Detroit Vegan Soul

Cedarland (Dearborn)


Pie Sci

Eater Detroit (great food blog about the restaurant scene in Detroit)

Golden Curry at Ima! So so tasty. I also very much recommend the ramen!


Flowers of Vietnam




Detroit Historical Society

Heidelberg Project

Motown Museum

Detroiters Speak lecture series

Eastern Market

Dequindre Cut Parkway

Still on my list of places to visit/try:

Rose’s Fine Foods

Sweet Potato Sensations

Bonoful Sweets & Cafe

Dabls MBAD African Bead Museum

Detroit Soup (Microgranting Dinner)

Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (Jazz Lounge)

Got other great recommendations of things to do in Detroit?? I’d love to hear them! Email me at