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Circumnavigator Award sends global health students abroad

women stand and lecture at the front of a classroom
March 04, 2015

Arizona State University global health juniors Annie Carson and Nirali Patel, both winners of the 2015 Circumnavigator Award, will travel over summer to six countries for an independent research project.

The awardees receive $9,000 to travel for 10-12 weeks.

“By looking at these different countries, it gives students the opportunity to learn about the unique challenges each country faces, but more importantly, common solutions that might be translated between,” said Daniel Hruschka, associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Carson became interested in maternal health care in high school. She decided the Circumnavigator program would be a way to research that topic and incorporate it into her honors thesis.

The United Nations set a goal in 1990 to decrease maternal mortality rate by 75 percent in 2015, and Carson will research why that goal has not been met. While Carson wants to study factors of maternal health care, she decided her research would best be used to first define what a midwife is.

“The more I study global health, the more I understand there’s not necessarily one role that a medical person holds," Carson said. “It can be interpreted differently in different cultures.”

Carson wants to understand how midwives work and contribution to maternal health care can be viewed. She’ll travel to the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Guatemala, Bangladesh and Rwanda to survey midwives, mothers, doctors and policymakers.

“I’m really excited to take the opportunity to do my own thing, make those contacts myself and figure out how to travel safely in these counties,” Carson said.

Patel, who is also studying biological sciences, will focus on the differences of refugee integration through resettlement programs in different countries. She will go to Australia, Germany, Denmark, France, Japan, the U.K. and Turkey. Her research of the the best practices in the programs will be incorporated in her honors thesis.

“It’s really hard to know what this country is doing, what that country is doing because they’re so focused on within [their own program] that some of the lessons you can learn from other programs are sometimes lost in translation, literally and figuratively,” Patel said. “I think it’s important especially for emerging resettlement programs to learn from the mistakes and also the challenges and triumphs of these larger resettlement programs.”

Patel’s mother was a refugee from east Africa, but Patel said she never understood what her mother experienced until she came back from India after volunteering with International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS in college. She didn’t anticipate experiencing culture shock.

“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, our roads are perfect, there are trash cans,’” Patel said. “Stepping back into this world took a little bit more adjustment than I thought.”

Patel hopes to study health care delivery after graduation. She will be applying to medical schools abroad while on her studies.

Carson is deciding whether she wants to continue researching health care topics or go into medical school.

Hruschka, who is working with both winners on their honors theses, said their independent work will help both of them understand research and its methods more in their topic.

“I think will give them a real breadth of knowledge of how these things could be treated or how these different issues could be treated more so than you would from just studying one or two counties,” Hruschka said. “Actually going and seeing these things on the ground gives you a perspective you’ll could never get by simply reading a book.”

Written by Alicia Canales