Searching for diamonds in the rough

Students who enroll in Professor Eric Bing's global health class are required to complete a group project that develops a strategy to help a local agency solve a health-related problem.

By Nancy George
SMU News 

DALLAS (SMU) – For SMU senior Dylan DeMuth, a "no" from an SMU professor changed his life. When Professor Eric Bing told DeMuth he was not yet qualified to enroll in his global health class, he gave the premed student a challenge to "improve your grades and call me in a month."

Eric Bing and Dylan DeMuth
Dylan DeMuth and Prof. Eric Bing (right)

Congratulations to Dylan DeMuth, just accepted to medical school at the University of Texas School of Medicine in San Antonio.  Classes begin in July.

He also asked DeMuth a rhetorical question: “How would you avoid getting malaria if you went to Africa?"

"Get a malaria vaccine?" DeMuth suggested.

"No. To keep from getting malaria, you must start taking anti-malaria medicine a week before you go to Africa," Bing said.

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DeMuth got the point.  A sophomore chemistry and economics major with a 3.0 grade point average at the time, he sought tutoring before his midterm exams, instead of waiting until he was struggling with challenging science and math courses. He met with Bing a month later to report improvement on his midterm tests – the beginning of a mentorship that inspired DeMuth to re-choreograph his life.

Now a graduate, he is teaching global health workers in Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and the United States the life-changing philosophy Bing taught him.

"I distinctly remember that phone conversation with Dylan," says Bing, professor of global health and director of SMU's global health program in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. "I remember thinking, ‘This kid is special, there was clarity, there was calm certainty.' But he wasn't ready for the class.'"

Students who enroll in Bing's global health class know they face a challenging semester. They are required to complete a group project that develops a strategy to help a local agency solve a health-related problem. Previous clients have included the Dallas Police Department, Brother Bill's Helping Hand, the Resource Center and Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic in West Dallas. In addition, the class requires multiple papers and preparation and participation in debates on global health topics. For the final project, student teams present their strategies to their community clients for judging.

DeMuth, determined to fulfill his passion for study and work in global health, followed Bing's advice to develop a mission and find his strengths. He began each day with what Bing calls "10-10-10," a daily practice of 10 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of meditating and 10 minutes of journaling.

Books like The Power of Habit, The Four Agreements and The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success inspired DeMuth, while phone apps like "Smiling Mind" and "Headspace," or the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi guided his meditation.  DeMuth recorded his thoughts in a green leather-covered journal, identical to the one Bing uses. He also used an online assessment tool to identify his strengths and help develop his personal mission.

When the opportunity to enroll in Bing's global health class rolled around again, DeMuth was the first person admitted to the class.

"I have been happier and healthier with this structure than I have ever been in my life," DeMuth says. "I haven't gotten all serious. I've just learned how to habitually improve myself to scale up what works and have a bigger impact. I am very fortunate to have someone like Dr. Bing to guide me, his impact has been absolutely life-changing." 

Receiving mentoring has helped Demuth academically as well.  His GPA shot from 3.0 to 3.8 during the time he’s been working with Bing.

Mentoring students and others through the class and other projects has long been important to Bing.

"Everyone is a diamond in the rough," Bing says. "But I look for givers, the people who will use their diamond not to show their own brilliance, but to reflect the brilliance of others."

At the beginning of each global health class session, Bing asks for "shout-outs," words of praise from one student to another.

"Dylan always received the most shout-outs," Bing says. "But he always gave the most shout-outs too. That's what I was really looking for."

A physician and global health researcher, Bing received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School, his M.P.H and Ph. D. in epidemiology from UCLA and his M.B.A. from Duke University. Before joining SMU to head the global health program, he was director of the global health initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.

"I didn't want to only be a practicing physician," Bing says. "Helping one patient at a time was gratifying but limited my reach."

Instead, he has spent his 30-year career developing research and creating programs that benefit multitudes of patients affected by HIV/AIDS in the Watts section of Los Angeles and cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. He is author of Pharmacy on a Bicycle, co-authored in 2013 with Rice University professor Mark Epstein, as a road map for improving health care worldwide. Recently, he has written a guide, with the help of DeMuth, I Did It! Creating the Life Meant for You, which follows the process he used to uncover his own mission and strengths and to help other leaders create social impact.   

The life-changing aspects of mentoring lasts far beyond college years, according to the 2014 Great Jobs and Great Lives Gallup-Purdue Index. Employees who were mentored by a professor in college or had at least one professor who made them excited about learning had twice the odds of being engaged in their work and were three times as likely to thrive in their well-being.

Now DeMuth and Bing use Skype to teach global health workers all over the world how to be more effective and have a greater impact, using some of the same approaches Bing taught DeMuth through his “10-10-10” method.  The student helped Bing develop the eight-week course, Strengths-based Leadership in the Simmons School's Institute for Leadership Impact for members of the Global Health Corps, a nonprofit founded by former first daughter Barbara Bush, which places young leaders with organizations in East Africa, Southern Africa and the United States to help improve health outcomes in impoverished communities.

With Bing's encouragement, DeMuth also has conducted his own global health research, supported by SMU programs including Engaged Learning, the Center for Global Health and the Institute for Leadership Impact.

"Dylan is a natural, he understands people in a way he doesn't yet realize," Bing says. "Mentoring him is lighting a torch that someone once lit in me."