Bella Sturr ’22, a religious studies and biology double major from Whittier, California, has always known that she wanted to pursue medicine. Recently, she joined the University of Redlands chapter of Faith in the Vaccine, combining her fields of study as a vaccine ambassador in the local community.
“The delta strain [of COVID-19] is hitting groups that are not vaccinated especially hard,” says Sturr, describing the group’s advocacy work. “We want to work with them in both a practical and information-based way to encourage vaccination. That’s our main goal.”
Sturr, a recipient of the Debra G. Ericson, MD and Chris W. Perez, MD Memorial Endowed Scholarship and the Ila Bright Evans Endowed Scholarship, was among the many volunteers across the country trained by the Interfaith Youth Core to raise awareness of the importance and efficacy of getting vaccinated in religious communities. Alongside U of R alumni, faculty members, and students, Sturr has been working to increase vaccination rates in San Bernardino’s evangelical communities.
Recently, Sturr and her fellow ambassadors have created vaccine fact sheets and other guidance in a variety of languages to reach different communities and engage with as many people as possible. This effort was made possible by the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the group’s members working together—something that Sturr believes is deeply valuable. To her, that’s the true definition of interfaith work.
Sturr says that her background growing up surrounded by people of different faiths allows her to make connections with others; while she was raised in a Quaker household, members of her extended family have roots in Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism.
“Being a part of an interfaith community is how I started to understand different opinions while being kind and friendly,” she says. “I really like learning about other people and what they believe.”
That breadth of belief systems translates to her experience in the interfaith community at the University of Redlands, where Sturr found the space to ask questions. Emeritus Chaplain John Walsh and Professors Lillian Larsen and Bill Murray-Holmes ignited her academic interest in religious studies, fueling what she now considers a “genuine passion.”
Additionally, the ability to drop into professors’ offices and have conversations about a broad range of topics is one of Sturr’s favorite aspects of being a student at Redlands. Faculty members have also helped her wrangle science and religion into a peaceful coexistence in her life, ultimately leading to her decision to apply to a religious medical school in the future.
“I believe in the scientific theories of creation and evolution; I believe evolution is real and that climate change is real,” she says. “But it doesn't mean that I don’t also believe in a higher power. As I've gotten older, I have been attracted to ideas about healing the whole individual and holistic approaches to medicine. Religion and science can coincide with and relate to one another.”
Much like her academic interests, Sturr embraces communities comprised of many faiths and their potential to create peace. “Interfaith communities are like jigsaw puzzles,” she says. “You take a bunch of different pieces and put them together to create a coexistence.”