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Sam Whipple spent four years at IUPUI laying the groundwork for a career in health care: among his options were medical school or exploring fields in biomedical engineering.

But a five-week trip to Moi University in Kenya between his junior and senior years opened up a world of new possibilities for the Evansville native. The “Understanding Kenya Through Partnership and Service” trip, supervised by IUPUI's Office of International Affairs (OIA) and funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad program, “changed my whole way of looking at the world!” according to Whipple.

Sam Whipple

The 2010 biomedical engineering graduate from the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI still plans to start law school at IU-Bloomington this fall, with an eye toward a career as a patent attorney for a company manufacturing medical devices. “I love the idea of helping biomedical engineers turn their ideas into products and devices that help people stay active and involved,” Whipple says. “I can't imagine anything more rewarding.”

But in the back of his mind, Whipple's African experiences — both in the classroom and in volunteering at a Kenyan orphanage — have him pondering what a career in international law and human rights might be like. “That trip opened my eyes so much,” he says. “It's hard to put those experiences into words. It's something you have to see for yourself, first-hand. People in Eldoret work so hard just to survive.”

Impressed with volunteer work

Dawn Whitehead, OIA's director of international curriculum, led Whipple's group to Eldoret and was impressed with Whipple's volunteer work at the orphanage. “I'm not sure Sam knew what to expect from working with kids,” she laughs. “But he was willing to do whatever it took, and I think he was amazed at how resilient the kids could be, how happy and animated. There was one little boy named Bernard that I think he and our other (IUPUI) students wanted to bring back with them, they enjoyed him so much!”

In a way, Whipple and the other two IUPUI students were test subects for OIA, which hopes to facilitate a permanent undergraduate study-abroad opportunity there by working with faculty across the campus. It would use the IU School of Medicine's longstanding partnership with Moi as a base. That program could become a permanent part of the IUPUI Honors College program. Going abroad “is a tremendous opportunity for students,” says Whipple, who also studied in Spain earlier in his IUPUI career. “Both of those programs helped me grow immensely as a person. You begin to see how to fit into the world around you in ways we don't always see back home.”

In fact, Whipple considers the variety of experiences available at IUPUI — international experiences, hands-on learning, research opportunities and service at places like the orphanage at which he worked — a powerful resource for students. He isn't surprised the university turned them into the RISE program.

One of the key study-abroad benefits are the relationships you build, says the Gerald L. Bepko Scholar. “There is one student I e-mail all the time, and a bunch of us get together for dinner from time to time to catch up and stay in touch,” he adds. He finds himself scanning the news for information about life in Kenya. And the trip changed him personally. “I haven't always been the most gregarious guy,” Whipple chuckles. “But these trips — and talking to others about what I saw and felt and did — have forced me to open up. There is just so much to share!”

Numerous lures to IUPUI

Whipple came to IUPUI to tackle the highly popular but challenging biomedical engineering (BME) program so that “if med school didn't pan out, I'd have something in the health-care field to tackle,” he says. The Bepko Scholarship program was another lure, as were the BME faculty who “are great about challenging you and keeping you on track.”

The biomedical engineering program was an exciting puzzle for him. “I had no idea what to expect, really. I just knew it was something I wanted to try,” he says. His older brother studied engineering at Purdue in West Lafayette, so Whipple knew “it would require a lot of hard work. It teaches you to know yourself, to set your own rules and guidelines and to know your limitations,” he adds.

IUPUI lived up to his expectations. “It's such a huge advantage to have a great medical school on the same campus,” Whipple says. “There are so many research opportunities for students, which let you test yourself in the lab. Plus, you get a chance to meet people excited by their own work and willing to spend time with you to see if their way is a path you'd like.”

As he learned more and more about the importance of patents to many biomedical enterprises, Whipple found himself intrigued. “To be a patent attorney, you have to finish law school and have a degree in engineering or biology or chemistry — one of the sciences,” Whipple says, adding with a laugh that “I'm a little behind the curve, but I'll catch up.” In fact, Whipple already took the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), though he admitted “it took a bit of cramming.”

Of one thing, Whipple is certain: wherever he goes and whatever he does, he vows to appreciate the experiences and opportunities that come his way. “That's a lesson I learned from the Kenyan people I spent time with,” he says. “They have so little, but still love life. You can't help but be impressed.”

Photo Gallery

Photos from Sam's trip to Kenya Launch Gallery