When Layne Scopano turned eighteen, her mother gifted her a luggage set. “You’re off and away,” her mother told her, holding back tears. “And you’re going to do great things.”
As the university’s newest Rotary Scholar, Scopano has certainly proved her mother right. She has spent her undergraduate years pursuing equitable healthcare for marginalized populations at home and abroad, and she credits her family for giving her the strength to do so.
The Rotary Global Grant provides a minimum of $30,000 for international graduate study in pursuit of sustainable solutions for global problems. For Scopano, this means pursuing a Master’s of Public Health at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, where she can continue working to address systemic inequality in maternal and child healthcare.
An eight-week research experience in the Peruvian Amazon opened her eyes to the importance of this work.
“Yes, it's research, but it's also more than that,” Scopano explains. She was studying the health and nutrition of new mothers of the indigenous Matsiguenga community—women whose experiences with foreign doctors and researchers had often left them feeling dehumanized and humiliated.
“How do I tear that down so that the answers they're giving me are true to them and not catered to what they think someone like me wants to hear?”
The answer? Community.
Sterile observation doesn’t work for the type of research Scopano does. In Peru, conducting interviews was a small part of her day. She spent hours studying the local dialect, joining families for dinner and helping out wherever she was needed. Some days, that meant wading in the river to do laundry. Other days, that meant carrying mandarins to town from two hours away.
Only by truly connecting to these women was Scopano able to learn the extent of the challenges they faced with local healthcare.
“We were offered electricity,” she recalls. “But it was solar powered and we were in the rainforest. People are trying but it's clear that these solutions aren't coming from the community. And I think that's a very structural problem that needs to be flipped on its head.”
This is one of the reasons why she is looking forward to pursuing public health in New Zealand with the Rotary: for over a century, the country has guaranteed Parliamentary representation for its indigenous people.
“I wondered a lot if I was the right person to do this,” she says. One day, as she was sitting among her research notes, questioning whether to apply for the Rotary, a woman she had been interviewing walked up and handed Scopano her crying newborn so that she could carry fruit to the local school.
“That was when all of my self-doubt dissolved away,” Scopano explains. “If these women are comfortable enough with me to watch the most important thing in their life, it's okay for me to share their stories.”
Her experience in Peru also helped her realize that, rather than going to medical school, she needed to gain global experience and a better understanding of public health systems, an opportunity that the Rotary Global Grant will provide her. After all, her goal is not simply to practice medicine: it’s to improve the lives of marginalized communities through healthcare.
No one who knows Scopano is surprised by her success.
To Professor Carla Swygert, whose Honors Spanish for Healthcare Professionals course inspired Scopano to pursue Spanish fluency and cultural competency, her dedication to becoming the best possible healthcare provider stands out: “Layne is relentless in her search for new learning opportunities. She is not scared to think outside the box… She excels when faced with a challenge.”
Scopano’s research mentor, Professor Jessica Bradshaw, still remembers the emotion on Scopano’s face when she announced her selection as a Rotary Scholar. “While she was stunned and humbled, the news came as no surprise to me.”
“Layne has been an emerging leader in science and public health since the minute she stepped foot on this campus,” says Bradshaw. “Her ingenuity in using research and scholarship to engage conversations about women’s health and intersectionality is nothing short of impressive. She is energizing and inspires optimism about our future – one of those rare students who you know is going make a transformative, global impact.”
As a Rotary Global Grant recipient, Layne Scopano is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Five Points, who provided her with support and assistance throughout the application process.
Students interested in applying for national awards such as the Rotary Global Grant are encouraged the get started with UofSC's national fellowships team.