Filia Van Dessel named Ambrose Scholar by Association for Prevention Teaching and Research

Project will engage Martha’s Vineyard community to promote physical activity for youth with disabilities

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

February 04, 2020
Filia Van Dessel

Second-year School of Medicine student Filia Van Dessel has been named a Paul Ambrose Scholar by the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research. Van Dessel will use the award to improve access to recreational and physical activity opportunities for youth with disabilities on Martha’s Vineyard. The project builds on the population health clerkship she completed with other students from the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Nursing.

“The idea for this project began when we collaborated with the Island Disability Council to survey families and local organizations and came up with a set of recommendations,” said Van Dessel. “Because we were there for only two weeks, I wanted to continue what we began and extend its impact.”

Van Dessel and GSN students Cathleen Cuddihy, RN, and Meghan Parrett, RN, will work with the council to create a directory of resources and opportunities for youth with disabilities to engage in physical activity. It will be available to parents on the council’s web site and distributed to local health care providers and community organizations. They will also develop and present a symposium to bring together Martha’s Vineyard families and organizations serving youth with disabilities to continue the dialogue begun with the population health clerkship project.

“The two major themes that emerged from our survey are that staff at recreational organizations would like to have more training opportunities and resources in order to better support kids with disabilities, and that parents of children with disabilities need more information regarding local disability services and recreational opportunities,” Van Dessel said. “Tackling these two issues will equip parents to seek opportunities for their children to remain physically active and will give organizations that provide these opportunities greater support and knowledge to accommodate youth with disabilities.”

Van Dessel is a member of the Rural Health Scholars Pathway at UMMS, and is involved in community health in Worcester as co-president of the Worcester Free Clinic Coalition. She conducted basic research while an undergraduate at Wellesley College majoring in neuroscience and worked as an applied behavioral analysis therapist with children on the autism spectrum before entering medical school.

“My personal connection to this project comes from previous work I have done with the disabled community,” said Van Dessel. “Following my experience working with the Island Disability Council during my clerkship, I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue working with this population. I believe strongly that inclusivity and accessibility are important to the well-being of individuals with disabilities.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Paul Ambrose Scholars Program prepares students to be leaders in addressing population health challenges. It honors Paul Ambrose, MD, MPH, who was onboard American Airlines flight 77 that was hijacked on September 11, 2001, for his commitment to promoting public health and preventing disease.

Van Dessel will launch her yearlong Ambrose Scholars project at the program’s annual Student Leadership Symposium taking place in San Antonio, Texas, from March 2 to 4. She plans to continue related work through her remaining medical undergraduate years as her scholarly capstone project.