Pittsburgh -- David Lee Folk is an aspiring nurse whose stunning photography and stirring dispatches from Nicaragua have brought to life Robert Morris University’s work to improve the lives of families there.
Now, he has been named the 2010 recipient of the Presidential Transformational Award, the university’s highest undergraduate honor. The award is given annually to a graduating student who has been transformed by his or her experience at RMU and has also contributed to the transformation of the university in a meaningful way. The recipient epitomizes the RMU experience through active and engaged learning, academic excellence, leadership and community service.
Folk grabbed the university’s attention last summer when he traveled to Nicaragua as part of an RMU nursing program in which students and faculty provide basic medical care to residents in the barrios of Managua. Nursing professor Carl Ross leads the two-week trips twice each year.
Folk chronicled his experiences in journal entries – dubbed “The Mail form Managua” – that he e-mailed daily to friends and family back home. The Mail from Managua portrayed in searing detail the deprivation they endure as well as the emotional toll that working with them sometimes exacts on the students and faculty. (For example, see http://rmunews.blogspot.com/2009/11/its-not-fair.html)
Accompanied by documentary-style black-and-white photography, Folk’s journal also described the inspiration the RMU group draws from the improbable joy with which the Nicaraguans go about their lives.
“The people of Nicaragua touched my heart in ways I couldn't have imagined. To be honest, it's still hard to look through the pictures without getting teary-eyed,” Folk said. “And none of it would have ever happened if Dr. Ross had not taken the initiative in reaching out to me as a student,” said Folk. “All of my professors in the School of Nursing have supported me in such a way that I felt that I could make a difference. I know my classmates feel the same way, and we are so grateful.”
Folk is a Canonsburg native and the son of David and Crystal Folk. He is a graduate of Lakeview Christian Academy, where he has since volunteered as a student aide. He is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and sits on the Dean’s Student Advisory Board in the RMU School of Nursing and Health Sciences. Folk has a 3.75 GPA and has made the Dean’s List every semester he’s been at RMU.
In December, RMU named him the inaugural winner of its Rising Star Award. That award is given to a graduating senior who demonstrates academic success, individuality, determination, passion and potential in his or her field of study. It recognizes that thanks to RMU’s professional focus and emphasis on engaged learning, success at RMU is a strong predictor of success in the real world.
“Lee is an extraordinary young man who has made everyone at RMU proud to be part of this university. His work in Nicaragua has inspired everyone, from his fellow students to the faculty and staff to our alumni and donors,” said RMU President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. “He lives our values every day.”
(To read all of Lee's journal entries from his trips to Nicaragua, click here and here.)