Being a servant leader

PLA scholar finds many ways to be ‘out in front’


While many of her fellow students spent spring break vacationing in tropical climates, Allison Palmer spent her time brushing children’s teeth in Peru.

The 19-year-old BGSU sophomore traveled to the South American country through the group MEDLIFE to help set up mobile clinics, where Peruvians could access health services that are typically out of reach.

Palmer, an applied health science major, not only showed children how to brush their teeth, but also took patients’ medical histories and blood pressure, assisted pharmacists with filling prescriptions and shadowed several doctors.

“The experience really humbled me,” the Southfield, Mich., native said “It was eye-opening to see the effect common, treatable illnesses can have on people when they don’t have access to good health care.”

Working in underserved communities has been Palmer’s goal ever since she decided she wanted to go into medicine. The trip to Peru only solidified that commitment for her, she said.

Palmer’s actions toward bettering the world through her volunteerism serve as a reminder for why BGSU chose her as a Sidney A. Ribeau President's Leadership Academy (PLA) scholar. The full-tuition scholarship is awarded to students who demonstrate the potential to be thoughtful, change-enacting leaders.

“I’ve learned that being ‘out in front’ isn’t the only effective way to be a leader,” Palmer said. “There are many ways to lead in being a servant leader — collaborating, finding your humility, putting others before yourself. I believe in serving others before all else.”

Palmer has put her ideals into practice at BGSU by taking an active role in the campus community. She is founder and president of Aid for Change, a philanthropic organization that raises money for causes that help disadvantaged populations.

She is the fundraising/community service officer for MEDLIFE, which, in addition to traveling abroad to set up mobile clinics, also engages in outreach and community service for low-income families locally.

As leadership chair for Alpha Lambda Delta-Phi Eta Sigma, Palmer conducts workshops to spread the message of servant leadership among members.

She is a member of Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society, a mentor for the Young Emerging Scholars Mentoring Program and an undergraduate researcher at BGSU’s microbiology lab, where is currently assisting faculty and Ph.D. candidates study how a DNA mutation in E.coli bacteria may allow it to produce aminolevulinic acid more efficiently.

Palmer plans to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in May 2017. After that, she hopes to attend medical school, possibly in her home state of Michigan, although she may also consider moving south, she said.

“I think I need to do more exploring before I can decide what specialty I would like to go into,” she said. “I have shadowed in a few areas — like pediatric surgery and family medicine — but I’m still open-minded about what direction I might take.”

Five years from now, she sees herself finishing her residency.

“I’m definitely interested in working in a hospital setting as opposed to the private sector,” Palmer said. “I see myself working in an underserved or rural area, where access to good care is limited. Those are the populations I really want to serve.”

The Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy Program (PLA), a four-year leadership development program, is steeped in the theory of servant-leadership, a practical philosophy that supports people who choose to serve first, and then to lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions. The PLA enrolls approximately 15-30 new students annually, resulting in a total of 100-120 students matriculating per year. Awardees receive a renewable scholarship up to the cost of in-state instructional (tuition) and general fees. Please visit to make a gift to this program.

Updated: 12/02/2017 12:46AM