Love Thy Neighbor

Alumni of Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences are striving to improve health access and quality of life within their communities. While their professions differ, they all lead with a desire to “love thy neighbor” and to make an impact for those in need.

May 6, 2024
A collage of Baylor University alumni.

Alumni of Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences are striving to improve health access and quality of life within their communities. While their professions differ, they all lead with a desire to “love thy neighbor” and to make an impact for those in need.


Portrait of a women dressed in pink scrubs.

It’s a common health issue few people talk about: pelvic floor dysfunction. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, Monioluwa Otubaga, PT, DPT, is working to normalize this conversation by providing targeted care to women dealing with prenatal, postpartum, and sexual dysfunction issues. 

“It’s about giving individuals the tools and support to regain control over their health and live without enduring unnecessary challenges and pain,” Otubaga explained. “I’ve witnessed transformative experiences that go beyond addressing the immediate physical symptoms. Patients often report restored relationships and an overall improvement in their quality of life.”

For Otubaga, the catalyst to work in this specialized field was the stark realization concerning maternal mortality rates in the United States. Black women have the highest maternal mortality rate in the U.S.—almost three times the rate for white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics like these are what motivate Otubaga’s commitment to improving access to pelvic care in her community. 

“I’ve held firm to the belief that every obstacle has a purpose, and I find myself in this position for a reason,” Otubaga said. “I’m here to be a voice for those who unfortunately no longer have one.”

Throughout Otubaga’s professional journey, she has faced challenges with peers and patients, and even grappled with occasional imposter syndrome. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, less than 5% of all physical therapists are Black. Even fewer work within the pelvic floor specialty, yet the incidence of pelvic floor dysfunction and pain is higher in this population. Otubaga advocates and empowers these women, providing culturally competent care. She views her role not only as a healthcare provider, but as a catalyst for change, actively contributing to diversity within the pelvic health profession.

“Being an African American woman in this setting is, to me, a blessing. My goal is to educate my patients, arming them with knowledge so that they enter a delivery room feeling empowered and ready to advocate for themselves and their safety,” Otubaga said. “This commitment goes beyond the treatment room. By the grace of God, I strive toward creating a more inclusive and representative landscape in women’s healthcare.”

Rooted in Christian values, Otubaga elected to earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree through Baylor’s hybrid program. This education helps to reinforce the holistic approach she uses to navigate common misconceptions about pelvic floor dysfunction.

“It’s all about integrating faith into the healing process for me, fostering an environment of compassion and understanding during treatments,” Otubaga explained. “This choice not only shaped my professional approach but also contributes to a broader commitment to improving health access and quality while upholding the Christian values instilled during my time at Baylor.”


A woman stands at a podium and holds a microphone to speak.

Established in 190 countries and territories, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) fights for a more equitable world for children and is often visible during times of crisis as it focuses on the safety of the most vulnerable children. The USA division advances this global mission through fundraising and education. 

Child rights advocate Maryann Wanjau is inspired by the younger generation. As a Community Engagement Associate with UNICEF USA, she works to lift the voices of young adults. 

“The youth I work with really try to raise awareness about health access being a human right. We must honor access to education, physical health, mental health, and nutrition—all basic things that UNICEF focuses on in terms of a child’s wellbeing. If it’s a human right, it should be provided to anyone—no matter where you’re born, what family you’re born into, or how much money you have,” Wanjau said. “The youth often have such a grounded, wise understanding of our world. It’s really encouraging—these people are going to be our leaders in the future.”

In August 2023, Houston was officially recognized as the first UNICEF Child Friendly City in the United States. In support of this initiative, Wanjau and her team focus on advocacy and engagement in Houston, encouraging people to support UNICEF’s mission by volunteering, raising awareness, and educating community members—specifically, she supports youth who want to do that work in high schools and colleges. 

“It was really great to hit the ground running to support Houston’s youth in facilitating mental health trainings, advocacy trainings, and presentations at mental health conferences. I was able to provide a UNICEF perspective and support their activities. Some of those youth even started their own organization, called AliefVotes, which encourages civic engagement for youth in underrepresented communities,” Wanjau stated. “It’s been a great experience and is really an integral part of me.”

Wanjau credits her time at Baylor as foundational for her career. Her passion for children’s development prompted her to earn a degree in Child and Family Studies, through the Department of Human Sciences and Design (HSD). This led to pursuing a Master of Education degree, and then to her current job. With UNICEF USA, Wanjau enjoys being able to work with like-minded people who advocate for children, no matter their background. She says it is the best combination of her passion for youth and her global perspective. 

“My heritage is Kenyan and Nigerian. I was born in Nigeria, where my parents met, and we came to the U.S. when I was two years old,” Wanjau explained. “I think that visits back home to Kenya and Nigeria really give me a passion not only to be zoned in on what’s going on locally, but to have a very global and international mindset of how we’re all connected. All our experiences might seem very different on the surface, but they’re essentially all the same.”


Portrait of a woman with long brown hair and wearing a black shirt, in front of a building.

“As an occupational therapist, I just want people to get back to what they love,” Lauren Reightler, OTD, said. 

While Reightler was earning her Post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree through Baylor’s hybrid program, the world began to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a medical professional, she continued working at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania. There, she noticed that as patients were discharged from the intensive care unit (ICU), they had no true direction on the next steps necessary in their recovery, and many struggled with cognitive, physical, and psychological issues. 

“I feel like being in the ICU is such an isolating, traumatic experience—few go through it, luckily—but I don’t necessarily think our healthcare system is set up to address the patients who go through such an intense hospital stay and have so many deficits afterward,” Reightler reflected. “Many get lost in the cracks.”

Reightler’s observations sparked an idea just as she was working on completing her capstone project for the Baylor OTD program. She did a case study on a patient in his early 20s with COVID pneumonia who had a very complex ICU stay. After the individual returned home from rehab, Reightler noticed a significant gap. Health services had stopped, but the patient had not returned to work and was having increasing mental health concerns. This prompted a conversation around post-ICU syndrome and the desire to start a clinic at the hospital where she worked.

Soon, the Successful Post-ICU Recovery Interprofessional Team (SPIRIT) clinic was established at Lehigh Valley Health to close the gaps in care that Reightler had observed. The team includes a critical care pharmacist, a licensed clinical social worker, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a registered nurse practitioner, and a pulmonary/critical care physician. Together, they ensure patients know about available resources and assist if patients have issues obtaining them.

The SPIRIT team aims to make contact the first week that a patient arrives home. Because many are not driving yet, they offer both virtual and in-person appointments. Reightler describes it as a “one-stop-shop” where the patient can meet with all the disciplines together so that they can make recommendations. The team follows up with the individual again after one month to ensure they have what they need to continue their recovery.

“Having something like this clinic, where we can check in with people to see what they need—even just from a mental health perspective—is huge,” Reightler shared.

Reightler remembers why she chose to pursue her post-professional degree, and she’s proud to have helped spur a positive difference in healthcare access.  

“I loved that Baylor was so focused on current practice. A lot of classes were focused on looking at how you could implement changes in your current practice and how you could analyze what you’re doing,” Reightler said. “It was all so relevant, and it helped me develop this SPIRIT clinic and guide my practice as a new clinician.”


A man holds fishing poles while he sits on a rock with a river behind him

A touch of warm sunshine on your skin… Laughter inside a camping tent… Breathing a deep breath of fresh air…

While nature may often surround us, not everyone has the capacity or desire to enjoy it. According to Gabe GarMelo, low socioeconomic status families often find difficulty in getting out to these places, and people of color, women, and minorities are not well represented as outdoor program coordinators. Further, he said, some communities don’t value being in nature, they’re afraid, or they view it as a burden.

Driven by a belief in the value of outdoor experiences, he co-founded GTG Outdoors with his wife, Megan. The organization’s mission is to introduce Waco’s underrepresented populations to nature experiences and the outdoors. Experiences are accessible to people of all ages, with a strong focus on removing barriers. 

“If you have no barriers, we want you to come. If you have barriers, we’re going to work with you to remove those barriers,” GarMelo explained. “We want to give the autonomy to the community. It’s important that we have everyone along for this.”

In addition to hosting camping trips for families, summer camps, and other activities, GTG Outdoors has a partnership with Mission Waco, providing outdoor adventures to youth after school. The youth can choose from any outdoor activity they find exciting, often electing to bike, fish, kayak, or rock climb. 

“Kids who spend time in nature tend to be more creative, their behavioral issues tend to be buffered, and they’re able to problem solve better because of the abstractness of outdoors,” GarMelo said. “Everything in nature is not perfect, but that’s what makes it perfect for learning.”

GarMelo earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and religion at Baylor, but after graduation, he still felt that something—some training or experience—was missing that would best equip him to pursue his goals.

“I knew I wanted to help people. My degrees were to help people, but how I was going to do that was still up in the air,” GarMelo explained. “I had my psychology degree for mental health and my religion degree for spiritual health, but I felt there was still something that could be added for a holistic approach.” 

That’s when he discovered Baylor’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program. Rather than focusing on one particular area of expertise, GarMelo’s public health degree taught him how to communicate and navigate the skillsets he had developed as an undergraduate for the population that he aims to serve. 

As GTG Outdoors continues to bring nature experiences to underrepresented populations, GarMelo is intentional to run the organization in a way that allows Wacoans to feel like they belong, to have autonomy, and to have a voice at the table. He emphasizes that the nonprofit is successful only through local community support, funds, prayers, and insights.

“I feel like it’s my calling, and God has allowed me to do this by opening a lot of doors,” GarMelo said. “I can’t do it alone. At the end of the day, it’s the people who have come through financially, volunteering, or just supporting GTG Outdoors—giving us vision, hope, and excitement.”