ALUMNI PROFILES — Fall 2005
   

 
Amy Finnegan, A.B. ’00

Peacefully Battling War and the Spread of HIV

Amy Finnegan traces her love of social issues to Washington University, where she first experienced people far different from those in her home state of Minnesota.

She traveled to India with the Catholic Student Center, studied abroad in Chile, and helped Latin American immigrants adjust to new life in the United States.

“All of that broadened my understanding of the world and social policy and my role in it,” says Finnegan, A.B. ’00 (political science and Spanish).

The friendships she made and the service work she performed instilled in her a great interest in social policy. This passion has most recently taken her to England, where she and her husband, Michael Westerhaus, A.B. ’98 (biology), presented a paper arguing that the lack of security in an area, whether because of war or of people not having access to jobs, can heighten HIV transmission.

The paper is a result of their research in Uganda, where the pair went after Finnegan graduated from the University. Spending a year there, she and her husband, who is in his final year of studying medicine at Harvard Medical School, worked at a high school and built latrines for a public health project.

Last summer, Finnegan, 27, went back to Uganda as part of her master’s degree program in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She completed the two-year degree program this spring shortly before her London presentation.

In between her trips to Uganda, Finnegan also worked at John Snow, Inc., focusing on international public health and NGO management. From Boston and on-site, she led projects helping build infrastructure to boost maternal and children’s health in Eritrea and Guatemala.

All of this work has culminated in a great love of conflict resolution and of seeking ways to avoid war. Finnegan says she challenges people to think about solutions to problems, such as mediation and negotiations, other than picking up guns.

“There’s this mentality that war is unavoidable and that it just happens sometimes, or that we have to go to war,” Finnegan says. “I just challenge that. It’s not inevitable. We can avoid it.”

In London, Finnegan and Westerhaus presented their paper at a conference on Africa through the African European Group for Interdisciplinary Studies (AEGIS). In Uganda, in particular, Finnegan says the conflict has led to people living in displaced people’s camps and children going into town each night to avoid being kidnapped by rebels. Because people cannot access their land to earn money for school fees or food, they’re forced to find other ways to live. All of this leads to increased transmission of HIV, which has long plagued sub-Saharan Africa, she and her husband argue.

With both HIV and war still present in the world, Finnegan’s work is just getting started, and she wants to work either in Boston or in Uganda. Finnegan says it’s important for her to have a home base in the United States, but she also wants to go abroad, where she says she’s inspired to work.

She’d also like to pursue a Ph.D. degree in a year or two. Ultimately, Finnegan wants to be a professor and possibly start a program to continue her fieldwork.

“I hope to keep up my connection to Uganda and also work on war and conflict issues, concentrating on how we all are connected.”

—Emily Rose, A.B. ’02

At press time, Amy Finnegan was starting a position as a program officer for World Education (www.worlded.org), working for its Uganda programs, with themes of HIV/AIDS, conflict, and education.

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Malachi Owens, B.S.E.E. ’73

The Electrical Engineer That Could

It is often said that people should single out one area to focus on in their career and devote themselves fully to it in order to excel. Malachi Owens, B.S.E.E. ’73, is a major exception to that rule. Having excelled in numerous occupations, ranging from engineer to musician to minister, Owens has a remarkable gift for multitasking. “I’ve been given that gift,” he acknowledges. And although retired, he continues full-steam ahead with his life’s many endeavors.

There is the electrical engineer. Owens’ specialty is in substation design and implementation, and he has developed mobile substation technology to replace, within hours, a failed transformer or substation when needed. After nearly 29 years, he retired in 2003 from Union Electric (now Ameren UE), and he currently serves as a senior project engineer with Advantage Engineering, a small consulting firm in Chesterfield, Missouri. (He acknowledges two former professors, Robert O. Gregory and Marvin J. Fisher, for their assistance in helping him realize his dream of becoming an electrical engineer.)

There is the musician. Owens has been singing in choruses around St. Louis since he was 15. He fondly remembers singing with the chorus that performed the first national anthem for Busch Stadium’s opening in 1966. “I was on a float in the parade for the opening, and then we sang out at second base for the first baseball game,” recalls Owens.

In 1976, he became a charter member of the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus, occasionally performing solo with the symphony. His work with the symphony has included trips to Carnegie Hall and performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ Requiem, and Handel’s Messiah.

In 1977, he was asked to become a cantor at Temple Emmanuel during the Jewish calendar’s High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Though he is not Jewish, Owens has continued to study and perform as cantor to the present day.

There is the minister. In 1998, Owens was called into the ministry and became associate minister at Galilee Baptist Church, where he has been a member for 48 years. At Galilee, he serves as chair of the trustee board and director of the men’s choir. “It was my speaking voice, ability to work with people, and active involvement in the church that led me in this direction,” he says.

There is the artist. Twenty years ago, Owens watched someone make a stained-glass window, which kindled his own interest in learning the art form. After his retirement, he took classes in it and has since completed stained-glass windows for his home, restoration work on a window for a 1917 St. Louis home, and original designs for clients.

And then there is the railroad engineer. Owens’ love of steam engine trains is reflected in his work as a Saint Louis Zoo railroad engineer. In the early ’60s, upon the inception of the zoo train, he knew he wanted to become an engineer there. Within days after his retirement from Union Electric, he was sitting on the engine, training for the job. He most enjoys the reaction of the kids—“big kids and little kids”—to the zoo train. “Everyone thinks the job is really special,” Owens says. “It seems like a special club.”

Owens also belongs to Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific, a live steam railroad club stationed in Glencoe, Missouri, that owns a mile-long track. There, he often spends Sunday afternoons, from May to October, carrying passengers along the Meramec River. “We have 10 live steam locomotives that burn coal and oil just like the big ones used to. We carry about 15,000 to 16,000 passengers over a 26-week period,” he says.

Owens has the unique ability to bring his passions to life and to pursue them to the fullest. But on a breezy summer afternoon, when glancing up from an ice cream cone and enjoying a pleasant day at the Saint Louis Zoo, the simplicity of Owens’ warm smile is equally inspiring.

—Ryan Rhea, A.B. ’96, M.A. ’01

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Beth Popp, A.B. ’84

Helping the Terminally Ill Live

Helping people who are facing chronic, progressive, life-limiting illnesses is the calling of Beth Popp, A.B. ’84.

Although she originally planned to become an orthopaedic surgeon, this psychology major changed her focus as she received medical training at Indiana University and then at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. During this time, she developed an increasing interest in patients with advanced disease.

“We didn’t know how to cure these patients. We often didn’t even know how to modify the course of their diseases. What we did know was how to make their very difficult and troubling symptoms better,” Popp says. “In symptom management, we weren’t waiting for the next big discovery. A lot was already known; it just wasn’t being accessed.”

So Popp set out to help, doing additional training in the relatively new field of palliative care. She explains that “palliative,” which derives from the Latin word meaning “to cloak,” describes care that helps patients by “alleviating their symptoms and helping them live with these illnesses as best they can.”

Palliative care embraces the patient and family, with a group of specialists meeting physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. “Everybody works as a team—something that traditionally has not happened in conventional medical care, which is much more multidisciplinary than interdisciplinary. It’s one of the things the hospice system has to teach us,” Popp says.

She takes a pragmatic, compassionate approach to her cases in her hospital-based practice in New York City. “For whatever reason, nobody at this time knows how to make these patients’ diseases go away. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make them better. By alleviating symptoms, we can help during what would otherwise be incredibly difficult times,” she says. “Life for these patients and their families is laced with many critical and pivotal moments. We can never make the experience easy, but we can assist with the huge number of choices facing patients (and their families) as they navigate the course of their illness. We can make sure that the pain and other symptoms are controlled, so they can live out their final days in their home, if that is what they want. It’s a tremendous gift to be able to give to patients and families. I feel privileged to do the work I do.”

In addition to her clinical practice, Popp has been actively involved in national and local efforts to improve palliative care. National work was done during a previous assignment for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Most recently, she has served as a co-chair and expert adviser of a RAND-Institute for Quality Improvement–United Hospital Fund quality-improvement collaborative. “It’s been a wonderful experience in which hospitals economically competing with each other have worked together to raise the community standard for pain and symptom management and palliative and end-of-life care in New York City.”

Throughout her work, Popp—who is grateful to have attended the University on a Lien Scholarship, a full-tuition merit scholarship for students in the social sciences—recalls lessons learned as an undergraduate, particularly in a course on the social psychology of health. “It was incredibly helpful to have taken the time at the start of my medical training to think about the kinds of expectations patients have, and the experience of being a patient.”

Also associate program director for the Division of Medical Oncology/Hematology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, Popp trains physicians and helps administer the program.

Working in palliative care and living in New York City on September 11, 2001, have sharpened Popp’s appreciation of each day: “While we all hope for life to be long, none of us knows what’s in store. We have to find some balance between valuing today and doing what we can to make the most of the tomorrows we hope to have.”

—Debora Burgess

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