By Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Aug. 30, 2019
Former UCalgary BHSc valedictorian to study why some global health projects fail
Elliott Reichardt, BHSc’17, was pretty sure he wasn’t going to receive one of the 68 coveted Knight-Hennessy Scholarships to undertake his PhD at Stanford University in California. In fact, the day the scholars’ names were posted on Stanford’s website, he tried to prepare himself for the disappointment.
“I was like, well, it's going to be a sad day, so I'll put some sad music on as I check the results,” he says. “But their website said ‘Congratulations, you've been invited for an interview.’ And I started dancing. I had wireless earbuds in and was jumping up and down in the middle of the office space.”
Reichardt, who was class valedictorian when he convocated from the Cumming School of Medicine with an honours Bachelor of Health Sciences degree in 2017, is packing his earbuds for the move in early September to start his PhD in anthropology at Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences. He completed a Master of Philosophy in health medicine and society at the University of Cambridge, where he was awarded the Forrester Prize for his dissertation on the social aspects of cancer programs.
At Stanford, he’ll explore how global health projects are designed and the reasons many of them fail. “A lot of it focuses on studying how people in distant places imagined spaces that are different than their own and how those assumptions can be problematic or lead to ineffective programs and why, ultimately, sometimes they fail to be effective,” he says. Specifically, Reichardt will look at how program designers “examine historical problems” as they create current programs.
Reichardt was drawn to the Knight-Hennessy Scholar program because it gives him the opportunity to get to know dozens of other scholars from different disciplines and create a multidisciplinary network to call upon to help address some of the world’s most vexing problems.
“There are mathematicians, physicists, engineers, lawyers, doctors — there's all this knowledge and expertise,” he says. “I'm interested in seriously working with people to find ways to address things like poverty. Being an anthropologist, I bring this really critical, circumspect perspective that's hesitant and much less optimistic than some of the other disciplines, but I want to be critically optimistic and think of ways that would help address these issues.”
He’s already put considerable effort into addressing some important health-care issues. Reichardt started tobacco-control advocacy groups, Stop Addicting Adolescents to Vaping and E-cigarettes (SAAVE) and Banding Against Menthol (BAM). He also started a group that supports Syrian refugees in Canada as well as health-care providers in Syria: Canadians for Safe Syrian Healthcare.
As he begins his PhD, Reichardt credits his undergraduate degree in health sciences for starting him on his academic path. “They're really focused on building people who are independent and able to take action, and it supports people to do that. If you're a really ambitious person who wants to make an impact, there's almost no restriction in the health sciences program,” he says. “University of Calgary has a lot of support for unlocking your potential in academics.”
And by delving into “why projects to attempt to improve the human condition fail,” he hopes to help create some that succeed.