Jerilyn Gillenwater ’20 can hardly wait to be a nurse midwife and deliver her first baby. Earlham is helping.
Gillenwater made use of the College’s EPIC Advantage program, through which every student is eligible for about $5,000 in funding to cover the cost of a research experience or, as with Gillenwater, a high-impact internship. After an EPIC-funded internship at Jamaa Birthing Village in St. Louis, she is more determined than ever to make her dream come true.
“I was in charge of the social media accounts, and I helped fundraise for a new birthing center that will open in two years in St. Louis,” she says. “And I got to network and talk to the midwives. I found out more about how it all works.”
The Neuroscience major comes from a family that has many members in health care fields.
“My mom and my uncle work in critical care, and I grew up hearing stories of sick and dying people, stabbings, shootings, accidents. I found these stories super interesting, but I knew I wanted something different,” she says. “I’ve known since I was young that I wanted to be a doctor, either in OB-GYN or anesthesia. But in sophomore year I had the psychology course Cradle to Grave with [Psychology Professor] Vince Punzo, and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a nurse midwife.”
She learned that the traditional hospital posture of giving birth on your back is one of the worst ways to give birth.
“At birthing centers or at home, mothers are on all fours, which is an easier way to give birth,” she says. “The U.S. has one of the highest C-section rates, which contributes to the U.S. having high rates of infant and maternal mortality, especially among women of color.”
Gillenwater was drawn especially to the way midwives work with their patients.
“I liked how caring, humble and dedicated to their work, the midwives were,” she says. She also liked how midwives and nurse midwives have a more personal and extended connection with the mothers and communities they serve.
“I’ve always been involved in community service, and my Catholic high school was concerned with community service and social justice,” she says. “Earlham shares these same concerns, and my Bonner service has helped me to continue to serve the community.”
As a Bonner Scholar, a program that awards scholarships for community service, Gillenwater has volunteered at Head Start, Girls Inc., and the Townsend Center.
“Me being able to help my community by serving as a nurse midwife is very exciting,” she says.
Gillenwater is also a member of Black Student Union, Earlham’s Pre-Health Club and Dance Alloy.