Friends and family of Jimmy Watts, a first-year Columbia-Bassett medical student who died last year, remember him for his commitment to service work and the connections he made in the Washington Heights community. Others will now associate his name with community involvement, thanks to the creation of the Jimmy Watts Leadership Scholarship for Community & Immigrant Health, announced in March 2014, a year after Mr. Watts died in a mountain climbing accident.
The scholarship, created through donations from Watts’ friends, family, and others, will support a student leader of the Dígame Summer Spanish Language and Cultural Immersion Program, run by the Columbia University IFAP Global Health Program. Students in the program spend the summer learning Spanish language skills through work in community-based organizations for Spanish-speaking patients and clients in Washington Heights. Through improved linguistic and cultural skills, these students develop better tools to care for Spanish-speaking immigrants in their future careers. The first scholarship will go to Alejandra Perez, a first-year medical student at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, in recognition of her extraordinary leadership skills and potential. She is president of the Black and Latino Student Organization, a P&S Club.
“We think this scholarship is very much in line with who Jimmy was and what he would have wanted,” said James Watts, father of Jimmy Watts. “This scholarship will support service, training, and improvement of immigrant health each year in Washington Heights. Jimmy so enjoyed his interactions with the residents of the neighborhood and the service that he performed there. Supporting Dígame is an excellent way for Jimmy’s friends and family and Columbia alumni to honor him.” In addition to his father, Jimmy is survived by his wife, Cassidy; mother, Rosana; and sister, Xochitl.
Alejandra Perez graduated summa cum laude from Baylor University with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and medical humanities. While at Baylor, she proved herself to be a natural leader with a significant record of accomplishments in community service. She served as the president and physician liaison of the Alpha Epsilon Delta Honors Society, vice-chair of Relay for Life, and president of the Latin Dance Society. She also participated in the Yale BioSTEP Summer Research Program and was a member of Sing Alliance, a musical showcase in which she won “Best Sing Face.” Alejandra was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, spent her childhood in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and graduated from high school in Edinburg, Texas. Her parents and two younger siblings live in McAllen, Texas, where her father is a vascular surgeon.
Dr. Stephen Nicholas, associate dean for admissions at P&S and director of the IFAP Global Health Program, said, “This scholarship will keep alive Jimmy’s spirited love for P&S and for Washington Heights for years to come.”