People to Know 2019: Ashby Walker
The flier posted all over the University of Florida campus posed a simple question: “Do you have a personal connection to type 1 diabetes?” Ashby Walker, PhD, an assistant professor and medical sociologist who’s done extensive research on pediatric type 1 diabetes in lower-income communities, was recruiting participants for a different sort of experiment. This one would take place in the classroom, not a lab.
“The University of Florida is known internationally for its type 1 diabetes research programs,” says Ashby, director of health equity initiatives at the University of Florida Diabetes Institute in Gainesville. “We would be remiss as an academic community if we didn’t allow the greatest stakeholders in the outcomes of our labs to learn about what we’re doing.”
She began the Directed Research in Type 1 Diabetes class three years ago as a way for students with a personal connection to type 1 to understand the process of research—through the lens of type 1 diabetes—but, like any good teacher, she also wanted to “ignite their interests,” she says. To that end, guest lecturers include pediatric endocrinologists, diabetes researchers, nurse practitioners, and others working in the world of diabetes who speak to students about career pathways.
What Ashby is doing in the classroom is every bit as important to the future of diabetes care as the groundbreaking work she does in the lab. As a certified diabetes educator, I’ve discovered that the best learning environment—whether it’s the classroom or a health care provider’s office—is that in which both the educator and the “student” have something to teach each other.
“My students keep me mindful of why we do what we do,” says Ashby. “As academics at a research institution, we have so much pressure to get grants and publish articles in high-impact journals, but what the students have done is remind me that the only impact that matters is our ability to improve the lives of other people. They keep me continually grateful that I get to do this work.”
Karen Kemmis, PT, RN, CDE, a physical therapist and certified diabetes educator at the Joslin Diabetes Center at SUNY Upstate Medical University, is the president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.