Student Stories: Immunology grad comes out of Africa a changed man

June 22, 2012

As part of the fieldwork component of his global health minor, Jason Bankert spent some of last year in South Africa -- an experience that changed his life.

Bankert, who graduated from the College of Agricultural Sciences last May with a degree in immunology and infectious disease, spent his first two years at Penn State Altoona before moving to the University Park campus. He and nine other students traveled to South Africa for six weeks in May and June of 2011.

"We spent the first week in Johannesburg getting acclimated to the culture and learning about important historical events," he said. "The second week we moved on to Polokwane and the Health Promotion Unit of the University of Limpopo."

There, he and the other students separated into teams. "I was part of the infectious diseases group," he said. "We visited schools around the area and talked to the kids and administrators, advocating for a curriculum centered on health promotion."

By promoting more awareness and education of hygiene and nutrition in schools, Bankert explained, children would take the knowledge back to their homes and create a ripple effect in their communities.

Bankert, from Altoona, Pa., also worked in local, government-funded clinics. "These clinics were operated mostly by the nurses we were observing," he said. "There were many cases of HIV testing and counseling, and the clinic offered these services for free to promote HIV awareness."

The welcoming, laid-back and open nature of the local communities was amazing to Bankert. "I honestly felt that we take so much for granted," he said. "These communities have so little, and yet people have an intense faith and hope that is really inspiring."

The emphasis Bankert saw on prevention and education further inspired him to pursue a medical degree. Starting July 30, he will study internal medicine at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

"I decided I want to focus more on preventive care than curative care," he said. "Ultimately, I want to do medical mission trips and become an integral part of these small communities."

More information about the immunology and infectious disease major is available at

  • Jason Bankert visited South African schools and talked to students and administrators, advocating for a curriculum centered on health promotion.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 06, 2012