As part of a spring semester co-​​op for the Lance Arm­strong Sur­vivor­ship pro­gram at the Dana-​​Farber Cancer Insti­tute, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dent Binja Basimike shad­owed an onco­car­di­ol­o­gist and taught fit­ness classes for female cancer survivors.

She drew inspi­ra­tion from the patients. “It’s a plea­sure to see how much stronger people become after dealing with adver­sity and tragedy,” said Basimike.

Some people have trouble dealing with the small things in life,” she said, “but these people are fighting for their lives.”

The fourth-​​year health sci­ence major will begin classes in Northeastern’s mas­ters of public health pro­gram in the fall while con­tin­uing in her bachelor’s degree program.

Her co-​​op expe­ri­ence con­vinced Basimike to pursue a PhD in inter­na­tional nutri­tion. Ulti­mately, she plans to work for an NGO, where she could help shape healthful behavior on a global scale.

We need to get the right infor­ma­tion out there and estab­lish clear guide­lines for proper care,” she said. “So many dis­eases, including HIV and obe­sity, are pre­ventable by making simple behav­ioral changes.”

Basimike — who is half Kenyan and half Con­golese — caught the human­i­tarian bug from her father, an epi­demi­ol­o­gist for the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion. He spe­cial­izes in malaria treat­ment and pre­ven­tion in Africa.

As Basimike put it, “I grew up with words like ‘public health,’ ‘malaria’ and ‘zoology’ before I was old enough to go to school. I’ve known that malaria kills nearly one mil­lion chil­dren under the age of 5 every year since I was pretty young.”

Basimike has also com­pleted three summer intern­ships for health clinics in Africa, which pre­pared her for working with cancer sur­vivors at Dana-​​Farber. “The intern­ships were a snap­shot,” she said, “but the co-​​op allowed me to be part of some­thing bigger.”

In June 2010, she vol­un­teered at a health clinic in Durban, South Africa, through Child Family Health Inter­na­tional, a global health non­profit based in San Fran­cisco. There, she learned how to test and counsel HIV-​​positive patients, including one woman whose hus­band was unfaithful.

People in Africa view HIV as a death sen­tence, Basimike said.

Telling her that she was HIV-​​positive was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” she said.  “Looking back on it, the expe­ri­ence allowed me to bring com­pas­sion and empathy to cancer patients, which are invalu­able qual­i­ties one needs when working with cancer survivors. “