Fueled by witnessing under-resourced communities and the impact of poverty on health care access while growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Lem Cartman ’22 sought a way to effect change in marginalized communities. This passion was the catalyst to Lem’s decision to attend Valparaiso University, and has fueled every aspect of his experience — from campus involvement to his recent summer internship and advocating for his community.
The 15th of 17 children and the first in his family to go to college, Lem was thoughtful when considering where to study. He took time to consider input from all his family members.
After a visit to Valpo, Lem knew he could connect with professors, pursue his passion for serving others, and be more than just a number. He was nervous at first, but nerves quickly faded as he realized his decision opened endless academic and extracurricular opportunities.
Lem has always had a knack for helping others so studying nursing was an easy choice. He witnessed many people in his community hurting, either physically or mentally. He was drawn to ways he could help; in high school, he began volunteering in a nursing home.
“I could see how important I was to them, when all I did was listen to the stories of the people in the nursing home,” Lem says. “My high school had a CNA (certified nursing assistant) course, and I took it and loved it. Studying nursing was the clear path for me.”
He says his driving force is his desire to eradicate poverty through empowering marginalized communities become self-sufficient, advocating for positive changes, and promoting justice for all. Working in health care is one way he can help others break the cycle of poverty in communities.
Lem will soon become a registered nurse, and he is confident this will only be the beginning of his career in helping and empowering others. This summer, Lem had the opportunity to begin learning about nonprofits and the impact he can leave. He hopes graduate school is in his future, and he wants to create a nonprofit to help raise funds and advocate for his community.
Lem served as a 2020 Calling and Purpose in Society (CAPS) Fellow through the Institute for Leadership and Service. The CAPS Fellows Program helps students develop and discern their future by reimagining the traditional internship as a communal and reflective experience. As a Fellow, Lem worked for Lutheran Services in America, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., one of the largest U.S. health and human services networks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lem was unable to travel to Washington, D.C., but was able to conduct his internship from his home in Chicago using Lutheran Services in America’s training and resources.
“My mom always says everything happens for a reason. The Fellowship has allowed me to advocate for my community. COVID-19 disproportionately affects Black communities, and Lutheran Services in America has been so supportive of me advocating for those communities,” Lem says.
Within Lutheran Services in America, he engaged in conversations about social and racial justice that are already making a difference. His reflection titled “Language of the Unheard,” shares his perspective on recent protests nationwide and in his community, focusing not just on civil unrest but also on what can be done to address systemic causes. He connects his nursing studies to how he views the world around him.
“Lem is true to himself in every situation. He takes advantage of each opportunity with which he is presented, and he’s conscious of how he can work to improve himself,” says Katie Karstensen ’18, former program coordinator for the Institute for Leadership and Service. “Whenever he has a chance to discuss or demonstrate his passion, he always brings it back to his community. Lem is always searching for ways to help the communities he is a part of and the communities he will someday join.”
On campus, Lem has found no shortage of ways to be involved and pursue his passions in community with others at Valpo. He is a member of the Black Student Organization, the Persistence and Success Program, Core (Valpo’s first-year experience) committee, College Mentors for Kids, Honor Council, and Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity. He has also traveled to Jonesville, Virginia, twice through Valparaiso University’s Spring Break service trips, which further developed his understanding of issues facing the marginalized communities he hopes to serve.
“During my first service trip, I went as a participant, and the second, I was a student leader. Both times we were working for a nonprofit that specialized in creating adequate housing for the community. I thought I understood poverty, but this was so different,” Lem says. “We encountered poverty on a massive scale. It was invaluable to interact with people and see how grateful they were for the project. It gave me perspective.”
Lem embraces leadership roles. In addition to student organizations and service, he has also held campus jobs as a resident assistant and as an overnight student ambassador, both of which are centered in building community.
“Not many people in my community take positions of leadership like being an RA. This job has shown me how I can be a better leader, and that has bled into other areas of my life,” Lem says. “I’ve had to learn to connect and empathize with people who are different from me.”
Lem has big dreams for the future. “After graduation, I’d like to work in an intensive care unit; I perform well under pressure. My ultimate goal in life is to save someone’s life, whether through health care or some other way in the future.”