USF Nursing student brings Peace Corps experience to Wimauma

You can ask Logan Marx where he sees himself in five years, but don't expect a specific answer -- at least not in regards to location. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, he's comfortable with the idea of letting life take him where his skills are needed most, without getting too hung up on the destination. That said, Marx felt like Tampa was the perfect fit when he arrived in 2019, the first Coverdell Fellow at the USF College of Nursing. 

The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program is designed for returning Peace Corps Volunteers who want to further their education while applying their service skills in underserved communities in the United States.

"The number one benefit of having Peace Corps Volunteers in classroom settings is that it adds a lot of value to the discussion," says Jesse Casanova, Assistant Director of Study Abroad for USF Health International. 

"In the classroom, there's always a lot of theory, which sounds nice, but you're not always going to apply something directly from theory. Students have to figure out: 'How can I make this work in a culturally relevant context?' That's where returning Peace Corps Volunteers can say, 'I know the book says this, but my experience was this.' It really helps contextualize the realities of 'how do you apply this principle to the community?' " Casanova explains.

Coverdell Fellows receive financial assistance from the Peace Corps -- at USF that's a $4,000 scholarship and an in-state tuition discount -- and perform at least 80 hours of service work per semester in a local community. While more than 120 schools in the United States are Coverdell partners, the University of South Florida is one of fewer than a dozen universities with a Coverdell nursing program. 

Marx took that into account when choosing USF, also taking note of Tampa's large Hispanic and Latino population. He does his Coverdell service in a migrant farmworker community in Wimauma, where he values working with elementary school-age youngsters to develop healthy habits, communication and critical thinking skills, and self-esteem.
 
USF by the numbers
  • In 2020, USF ranks No. 2 for total Peace Corps graduate volunteers and No. 25 for total undergraduate volunteers among large colleges and universities.
  • 38 USF students are Peace Corps volunteers in other countries right now.
  • Since the agency’s founding in 1961, more than 545 USF alumni have served abroad as Peace Corps volunteers.

Teaching healthy skills to kids 

Marx feels at home working in Hispanic and Latino communities. He grew up in Dallas, TX, and studied Spanish and Mathematics at the University of Arkansas prior to joining the Peace Corps. Two years spent working in Guayaquil, on the coast of Ecuador, inspired Marx's desire to pursue a nursing degree.

"I knew I wanted to be in medicine, so I'd started a project with the HIV-positive population living on the coast, and I noticed how much I enjoyed going to patients' houses and having direct contact with them. That made me realize nursing was the path I wanted to take: I want to always have one-on-one contact with patients," he explains. 

Building on a pre-existing relationship with the Wholesome Community Church in Wimauma, where the USF College of Nursing has been working since 2018 to expand health education outreach in the migrant community, Marx helped develop a Wholesome Kids Winter Health Camp in December. 

"From the start, I wanted to focus on kids because I just love working with them. One thing the Peace Corps does well is the training stage where we focus on understanding our community and the population we'll be working with. When we find out what's really happening and where there are holes, we can help them fill. [In Wimauma] we'd been doing health screenings and fairs with adults, and I noticed they'd put the kids in another room and have them color or something. I realized that's where we need to focus," Marx says.

Although his background is in sex education -- having focused in Ecuador on preventing the spread of HIV -- working in Wimauma presented an opportunity for Marx to switch gears and create a wellness program geared toward young children. Working in Wimauma with kids as young as 6, Marx says he leans into "soft skills" development as a way to encourage lifelong healthy habits from an early age.

"Since we were partnering with a church, we were timid in exploring our options. After talking with community elders and parents, we ended up focusing mainly on life skills for younger kiddos -- things we feel will build a foundation and help them excel in school and beyond," Marx explains.

At the Wholesome Kids Winter Camp, Marx transformed into a friendly alien visiting from outer space -- a modern-day Mork befuddled by basic Earth skills, like making a peanut butter sandwich -- to teach the kids interpersonal skills. Instruct him to put peanut butter on the bread, and Marx will smoosh an unopened jar of peanut butter into a full loaf of bread, only to be met with a chorus of giggles and chiding corrections. Meanwhile, the kids are having fun while learning the importance of clear communication. 

"There were lots of critical thinking activities as well," says Marx. He notes, "not every kid gets the chance to do that in the public school system in the U.S., where 'good' critical thinkers get put into special programs that other kids don't have access to."

Youngsters also learned how to understand stress, and tools for managing it, such as yoga. They built spaghetti towers, collected trash, and worked together to upcycle it into "nests" for an egg, played team sports, and created their own personal flags -- bandera personal -- that helps them visualize, illustrate, and take pride in their identity. The camp also brought kids together.

"A lot of these kids didn't know their neighbors, These families come from all over, so this was also a really great way for kids to intermingle and develop friendships," Marx says.
 
Other Florida schools
  • Eckerd College in Pinellas County ranks No. 3 among small colleges and universities with 14 active Peace Corps volunteers.
  • The University of Florida ranks No. 2 overall with 70 active Peace Corps volunteers.
  • Currently, the state of Florida ranks No. 2 among all states with 341 Peace Corps volunteers serving worldwide.

Developing a lifelong passion to serve others

So, ask him where he sees himself in five years, and the details may not be ironed out, but one thing is certain: Logan Marx is a helper -- and the more hands-on, the better. 

"I have two passions and they don't intertwine very well, so I'm choosing to follow both of them," he says. 

Marx is currently finishing his last semester in USF Nursing and says he's drawn to critical care. He chose to pursue his preceptorship in the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit at Tampa General Hospital. 

While he looks forward to the experience of providing critical care in an ICU setting, Marx is also drawn to the field of public health -- a passion he developed during his time working in Ecuador and continued to hone in Wimauma service projects.

"You have to start from the ground up -- you can't just go into a Masters program without experience -- but ultimately, I think a Masters in Public Health would be great," Marx says. 

He's also still drawn to globetrotting, noting that a directorship position overseas with the Peace Corps is a dream job. For now, though, Marx couldn't be happier that he landed at the University of South Florida to pursue his nursing degree.

"Tampa has blown my mind. It's a cool city, and I've really enjoyed the people I've met here. It's also great because I can ride my bike everywhere. In a lot of ways, I'm hoping to stay in Tampa -- it just depends on where I get the next job," Marx says.

For more information, visit USF World.
 

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith is a freelance writer and certified yoga instructor living in the historic, colorful Gillespie Park neighborhood of downtown Sarasota. A Florida native, Jessi spent her childhood exploring the mangroves along the riverbanks of the Manatee River, and to this day refuses to live anywhere that is not within walking distance of a body of water. She received her BA in Art History from Florida International University prior to moving to Sarasota, where she channeled her passion for the arts into a writing career and found yoga to counteract the effects of hunching over a keyboard for days at a time. Today, when Jessi is not writing or teaching, she enjoys traveling, thrifting and indulging in the Bay area’s distinctive culinary and craft brewery scenes.
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