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Student going to Guatemala to study indigenous
health-related traditions and beliefs

Research in Mayan community is part of SMU Engaged Learning

Kimberly Mendoza
Kimberly Mendoza
Follow her blog.

May 9, 2012

As part of SMU Engaged Learning, Kimberly Mendoza is conducting an Unbridled Project in Guatemala during the 2012-13 academic year. She will be blogging about her research into the health-related traditions, beliefs and practices in the indigenous Mayan community and how these values and beliefs occasionally clash with Western medicine.

"All my life I have been very passionate about learning; therefore, when I discovered a program that would allow me to learn “outside the classroom,” I immediately was intrigued," she writes in her first blog entry. "I remember quickly searching online for the program application, and as I began scanning over the requirements, I was stumped for a moment.  How could I explain in an eloquent manner what I was so passionate about?

Mendoza is a double major in biological sciences and chemistry in SMU’s Dedman College. Nia Parson of the Department of Anthropology will serve as her faculty mentor.

During her first year at SMU, Mendoza took Parson’s course “Health, Healing and Ethics,” which examines cross-cultural perspectives on sickness and society. “It was one of the best classes I have taken at SMU,” she says. “Dr. Parson gave me so much insight into health as viewed from different perspectives. She also was very passionate about her anthropological work and health in a global perspective.”

Mendoza’s mother is of indigenous Maya origin, but she fled her native Guatemala during the civil war in the 1970s.

Map of Guatemala“As a result, she did not grow up learning the traditions, culture, values and language that bind this group of people together,” Mendoza says. When her maternal grandmother, also an indigenous Maya, received medical treatment in the United States for a malignant brain tumor, Mendoza experienced first-hand how strongly those traditions and values are upheld. “I also witnessed the dichotomy between my grandmother’s spiritual and traditional beliefs and the Western medical system,” she says.

Through her Unbridled Project, Mendoza seeks to understand how to better relate to those who hold such traditional values and beliefs, she says. She plans to become a physician with an emphasis in global health and hopes to work with Doctors Without Borders.

"I cannot wait to see what all is in store for me as I complete my research," she writes in her blog. "I am eager to learn more about the health-related practices of the indigenous Maya, and I look forward to meeting so many new faces on my journey. Above all, I want to explore what my research can contribute to the topic of global health and to imagine how it could be used to provide better health care for immigrants."

Mendoza’s research could help in providing better care for Guatemalan and other immigrants here in Dallas, Parson says. “It is very gratifying to see Kimberly bringing together her family’s ties to Guatemala and her educational experience here at SMU.”

Engaged Learning LogoThe Office of Engaged Learning provides institutional support for SMU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), created as part of the University’s reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). “Engaged Learning Beyond the Classroom” allows all SMU undergraduate students to participate in at least one extensive experiential learning activity prior to graduation.

See a full list of students who will pursue 2012-13 Unbridled Projects.

Watch the Engaged Learning video. video icon

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