Learning and teaching in Guatemala

Global health student’s field school experience yielded practical insights for her future career

August 14, 2019

Undergraduate global health student Mariyah Dreza spent her summer researching mental health in Guatemala and along the way had the opportunity to speak to an audience of local undergraduate students.

After receiving a competitive Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, Dreza chose to attend the Guatemala: Community Health and Medical Anthropology field school led by Arizona State University's School of Human Evolution and Social Change. photo of Dreza giving presentation at Universidad del Valle Mariyah Dreza. Download Full Image

This year, Dreza and other students came up with research questions, designed surveys and conducted interviews with more than 60 women to determine their perceptions of mental health, which can help inform local health organizations’ goals.

Through her scholarship, the American Spaces office — part of a U.S. Department of State program that provides places for people to learn about American culture — heard about Dreza and invited her to give guest lectures at two cultural anthropology courses at the Universidad del Valle. Despite feeling nervous, she spoke to a large crowd of students there about her research experience and answered their questions about anthropological methods.

“This type of interaction between undergraduate students is incredibly valuable,” said Associate Professor Jonathan Maupin, the field school’s lead. “We hope to have more opportunities like this in the future.”

Dreza shared more with ASU Now about this immersive field school experience.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What inspired you to study global health?

Answer: I really love that global health is well rounded and recognizes how extensive the discipline of health is. I was also interested in the field study with Associate Professor Maupin because it was more research focused, and ultimately research is what drives global health programs and steers proper health care and program development.

photo of Dreza kayaking on lake in Guatemala

Dreza kayaking on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Mariyah Dreza.

Q: What was your role in this onsite ethnographic research? What skills did you learn?

A: Maupin was researching the community of Acatenango and that community's perceptions of mental health and mental illness. Our role was to conduct in-home interviews with women, which involved reading them stories about a person with clinical symptoms of different mental illnesses.

We asked what they believed to be happening to the person in the story, and if they thought that person had a mental illness. We asked them about how probable were different possible reasons for the illness, such as: their own bad behavior, genetics, circumstances in their life, the way they were raised, God's will, things like that. We learned a lot about the methods behind research.

We also measured social distance, which was the most interesting to me. We asked questions such as how willing they would be to be neighbors with someone like the person in the story, to rent a room with them, to work with them, to have their daughter marry someone like them. So far, it looks as though alcoholism is the most readily recognized, and people tend to answer with keeping the most distance from that hypothetical person. 

Q: What was your most memorable moment from the field school?

A: Maupin is actually the vice president of the nonprofit ALDEA that focuses on empowering vulnerable Mayan communities. Our very last day of the program, we were able to come along for a board meeting, where we visited a Mayan community to see firsthand the progress going on there.

Some of the houses finally had stoves, compared to the open-fire cooking they previously had. Picture 39 parts per million carbon monoxide exposure to women and children, down to three parts per million. There were also family gardens, and goats had been distributed to families with toddlers so that they had access to goat milk and more nutrition. It was great to see global health concepts in action.

Q: What was your greatest challenge during the program?

A: I think the hardest part was learning all about Guatemala. They have a long history of violence, a 36-year-long civil war that barely ended in 1996, where more than 200,000 people died. Now, almost half of the population lives in poverty. It wasn't unsafe while we were visiting, and the culture is incredibly hardworking and beautiful. But definitely a bit of culture shock came with being aware of their history.

Q: What was it like to give a presentation at Guatemala City’s Universidad del Valle?

A: I got a call that I would be giving a presentation to two anthropology classes at Universidad del Valle to approximately 60 college students. It was a Tuesday afternoon and this presentation would be on that Thursday morning. Needless to say, I was pretty terrified. But I was able to do most of the presentation in English, which was a relief. 

I didn't feel very comfortable about giving the presentation, and in all honesty I wasn't sure if I could do it. But it seemed like one of those moments in life that's sort of a turning point, and that you're supposed to push through. In the end, it actually went pretty smoothly, given the short notice!

Q: What did you and Maupin discuss?

A: I talked about the methods of the study and my role in the ethnographic research. Basically, I went through why Maupin was interested on their perceptions of mental health, what previous research our study was based off of, the questions we asked and our preliminary observations. The main question is: Is mental health a cultural construct, and then to what extent are mental illnesses universal? Then Maupin finished up with answering questions and discussing his past research in Guatemala.

Q: How did this experience impact you long-term?

A: I'm planning to be an optometrist, and my main goal is to ultimately work in developing countries or low-resource settings and deliver eye care where there would otherwise be less access. I could see myself in the future utilizing both my global health degree and this field study experience towards researching barriers to eye care.

This is just one of the many experiences offered through the ASU Study Abroad Office, which has 250-plus programs in more than 65 different countries.

Top photo: Dreza giving a presentation to an anthropology class at Guatemala's Universidad del Valle. Photo courtesy of Mariyah Dreza.

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


ASU study shows positive lab environment critical for undergrad success in research

Undergraduate researchers with LEAP Scholars program publish findings

August 14, 2019

Getting involved in research as an undergraduate can have significant benefits, such as enhancing a student’s ability to think critically, increasing their understanding of how to conduct a research project and improving the odds that they’ll complete a degree program in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

And, for students who participate in research over several years, the benefits are even greater. They often develop greater confidence in their research skills along with an ability to solve problems independently, and they are more likely to pursue a career in STEM. Undergraduate students work with a faculty mentor Undergraduate students work in a neuroscience lab with faculty member Janet Neisewander. Photo by Samantha Lloyd/ASU VisLab

But many undergraduates drop out of their research experience before graduation or even during their first year working in a biology lab. Until now, there has been no research as to why.

In a study published today in PLOS ONE, a group of 14 undergraduate Arizona State University co-authors addressed this question as part of a class project. Led by School of Life Sciences Associate Professor Sara Brownell, graduate student Logan Gin and University of Central Florida Assistant Professor Katelyn Cooper, students with the LEAP Scholars program surveyed more than 750 life sciences undergraduates doing research in 25 public institutions across the U.S. They found that 50% of students who participated in the study had considered leaving their undergraduate research experience more than 50% of those students ultimately decided to leave. 

They also found that the most important factors that influence whether a student decides to continue working in research included a positive lab environment and enjoying their everyday research tasks, as well as flexible schedules, positive social interactions and feeling included. Students also persisted with their research when they felt they were learning important skills and perceived the work was important to their career goals.

“We often assume that all undergraduate research experiences are positive for students, but this study shows that this is not the case. If 50% of students consider leaving their undergraduate research experience, then that means that we have a structural problem with how we are integrating students in undergraduate research,” senior author Brownell said. “We can empower students with more knowledge about undergraduate research to help them choose a suitable lab, but we also need to find ways to make our research labs more positive environments for all students.”

Other factors, such as race, gender, GPA and college generation status, also play a role in what factors influence students to persist in their research experiences. Men were more likely than women to stay in research because they consider it important for their future careers. Men were also more likely to leave their research experience because they didn’t enjoy their specific lab tasks, while women were more likely to consider leaving because of a lack of flexibility in the lab. 

Underrepresented minority students were more likely to leave their research work because they felt they were not learning important skills, while white students were more likely to stay in research because they enjoyed their everyday lab tasks. And, students with lower GPAs were more likely to stay in research because they were unsure about future research opportunities, while those with higher GPAs were more likely to leave research because they did not enjoy the everyday lab tasks. 

“We were excited to identify factors that disproportionately affected underrepresented and marginalized students’ decisions to leave research. It will be challenging to identify solutions, but identifying these issues is a critical step in developing a more diverse and inclusive scientific community,” Gin said. 

ASU LEAP Scholars

LEAP Scholar students present their research findings on undergraduate persistence in a research lab at a spring SOLUR Symposium. Left to right: Leilani Pfeiffer, Barierane Akeeh, Deanna Elliott, Luis Guiterrez, Rebecca Mello, Carolyn Clark, Rachel Scott. (Not all researchers pictured.)


For faculty members who invest time and resources to train undergraduates to work in their labs, this study provides important insight that can be used to shape their student lab experiences, develop support policies and improve mentor and mentee relationships. 

“What was most surprising to us was the importance of the lab environment and the interactions among people in the lab,” lead author Katelyn Cooper said. “When we hire faculty members to run research labs, we often are looking for the smartest people with the best research ideas. However, this study highlights that if we want to maximize the success of undergraduates in research, we need to be selecting for supportive faculty who can create positive working environments.”

Brownell and her co-instructors lead ASU’s LEAP Scholars program, a four-semester scholarship program funded by the National Science Foundation to help community college transfer students get involved in undergraduate science research. Because many transfer students need to work a job while attending college, the LEAP program provides scholarships and mentors so they can work in a research lab instead and focus full time on their coursework.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise