Amherst Magazine

Amherst Serendipity

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Jon Rohde '63, P'94

Indu Ahluwalia ’84 attributes her friendship and collaboration with Jon Rohde ’63 and Howard Bellin ’57 to “Amherst serendipity.” Rohde is a medical doctor renowned for his public health work on infectious diseases and nutrition in developing nations. Bellin is an esteemed plastic surgeon with a long history of humanitarian work. Ahluwalia, a senior epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says that chance meetings with these fellow alumni have shaped and advanced her public health work, as well as the advice she offers recent Amherst graduates.

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Indu Ahluwalia '8

 

Discovering Public Health    

A biology major, Ahluwalia spent the summer after her junior year on campus working in a lab and babysitting for the children of visiting alumni. That’s how she met Rohde, who was on campus to receive an honorary degree.

“At the time, I didn’t know the nature of his work, much less his reputation. ‘What do you do?’” Ahluwalia recalls asking. “As he described how public health initiatives are created, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ A year later, I was pursuing a master’s degree in public health at Yale—as a result of meeting Jon.”

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Howard Bellin '57

When Ahluwalia evaluated a large-scale immunization project in Nepal for her master’s degree fieldwork, she turned to Rohde for advice. “Jon had in-depth knowledge of my subject—his own mentor had launched UNICEF’s immunization campaigns around the world.”

Meanwhile, Ahluwalia had inspired Rohde’s 10-year-old daughter, Jane, on that initial visit. Jane Rohde Bowers ’94 later followed her dad, her “biggest inspiration,” and Ahluwalia into public health, receiving a master’s degree at Emory University—across the street from Ahluwalia’s office. After graduation, Bowers joined the CDC, too, as an epidemiologist for the Los Angeles County Health Department, working on HIV/AIDS.

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Casey Silver '12

 

 

 

Giving Back    

In 2006, Ahluwalia returned to Amherst to speak to students interested in health professions. As she left the Lord Jeffery Inn for the panel, she started talking to a man who was walking to campus with his dog. That man was Howard Bellin. “I didn’t realize initially that he was also a panelist,” Ahluwalia says. “By the time the event started, I had already asked him to collaborate on a future project.”   

Just a year later, the two reconnected in Tanzania. There, Bellin spent two weeks performing reconstructive surgeries and lecturing at Bugando Hospital, a tertiary care center in Mwanza. Ahluwalia describes Bellin as having been incredibly generous with his time and resources. “We still keep in touch.”

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Maddie Giegold '13

Likewise, she and Rohde continue to connect. This past March, when Rohde presented a virtual lecture for Amherst titled “Global Health for All—You CAN Make a Difference,” Ahluwalia listened to it online. The college aired the lecture live to students interested in public health. Hearing Rohde respond to student questions took Ahluwalia back to the summer they met. “I could imagine the students being inspired by Jon like I was—and continue to be.”

They were. Prompted by the lecture, Casey Silver ’12 contacted Rohde, as his work aligns with the volunteer work she hopes to pursue next year in India. Meanwhile, Rohde is helping Maddie Giegold ’13 identify summer internship opportunities in public health, a long-time interest of hers.

Ahluwalia expects that students such as Silver and Giegold will continue to find serendipity in their futures. “It’s what happens among alumni. You unexpectedly find what you need—a connection, some inspiration, an open door. That’s just Amherst.”