Connections and relationships. These are what matter most in life, says Clinton Afful, a senior public health major at St. Bonaventure University.
But while growing up in the Bronx, Afful didn’t always embrace the idea of connecting with others. A typical school day would end with him heading straight home after the final bell. He didn’t linger to talk with teachers or hang out with friends.
“I would just go home and mind my own business,” he said. “At St. Bonaventure, I realized it’s about connecting. I started reaching out.”
Those connections led to involvement, which put Afful on a path to forging friendships with others, especially teachers, and discovering his strengths.
“From the time I was a freshman until now, the involvement of my professors has been incredible,” he said. “They really help the students here.”
Afful credits Dr. Claire Watson, founding director of the public health program, as being his greatest advocate and mentor. “She’s been my main support. She always checks in with me and has helped me in so many ways.”
One of those ways was connecting Afful with an internship opportunity with the New York State Department of Health from May through August of 2020.
“I became part of the COVID-19 tracing team. I contacted people who had been exposed to the virus,” he said. “Sometimes I was on the phone for an hour and a half with a person and their family members. I would talk with them, answer questions, and tell them what steps to take.”
Afful holds a keen interest in how social factors, such as the environment a person grows up in or their access to health care, can affect a person’s health. “It drove me to minor in sociology,” he said. “Diversifying my studies will allow me to help other people.”
He isn’t waiting for graduation to start helping, though. When he isn’t studying, he can be found offering a hand up to others — most notably to fellow students in the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, which brought him to Bona’s. The program allows financially and academically underprepared students to pursue higher education.
Maggie Young, associate director of HEOP, shared that Afful “has consistently been a hard worker. He goes out of his way to help other students, offering tutoring and assistance, especially to our younger HEOP students in the sciences.”
Afful has also been active across campus. He served as a student ambassador for the Career and Professional Readiness Center and as an overnight host for the Office of Admissions. He joined the Mountain Community Leaders at Mt. Irenaeus, sharing news about the Mountain. Currently, he serves as an executive member of the Student Government Association and co-president of the Campus Activities Board. And in addition to being a biology and math tutor for HEOP, he is a peer coach for freshmen.
His future plans include applying to Bona’s physician assistant studies program. Following that, he would love to put his education to work right here in the Olean area. It’s a place he has come to call home.
“At St. Bonaventure, everyone knows you by your name and checks up on you. People really care,” he said. “I’m so grateful to the professors and for the chance to be here.”
By Susan Anderson