Donor Generosity Helps Bring Student Field Projects to Life

Published December 18, 2017 under Education News


Pranalee Patel '18, the 2017 recipient of the Aalok S. Modi Global Health Fieldwork award, teaches high school students in the WISER Girls' School about reproductive health.

This past summer, five undergraduate Duke students traveled to five different countries to conduct research, thanks in large part to the generous donors behind two funds established to support undergraduate global health fieldwork. 

These funds were among the first established in the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI). We’re grateful to these donors for their important and early investment in the work of the Institute, and to many other donors who have since established funds that make possible dozens of DGHI fieldwork projects across the world each summer.


Aalok S. Modi Global Health Fieldwork Fund

Aalok Modi’s dream of a career in medicine and global health was left unfulfilled with his sudden death in February 2008. A chemistry major, Modi had served as a dynamic leader on the Global Health Student Action Committee. His passion was fueled by the Global Health FOCUS program, which introduced him to the social, economic, political and environmental factors that contribute to health disparities in the developing world. In one of his last messages to his father, Modi wrote, “As long as there is suffering in this world, I know my purpose in life.” His family and friends created a fieldwork fund in his name to empower other Duke students to engage in global health research that embodies Modi’s commitment to serve humanity. Modi, who was studying to become a doctor, led the DGHI Student Action Committee, in which he passionately advocated for greater student involvement in the field. 

The Paul Farmer Global Health Fund

The Paul Farmer Global Health Fund was established by a friend and classmate in honor of global health pioneer Paul Farmer, a Duke alumnus and DGHI board member best known as the co-founder of Partners In Health, an international social justice and health organization. This grant is awarded to undergraduates for global health fieldwork projects, with a focus on students who have a demonstrated interest in issues of global health disparity.

Read on to learn about the 2017 grant recipients, their projects and their biggest takeaways.


Pranalee Patel ’18 
Majors: Global Health, Biology 
Minor: Chemistry
Fieldwork Site: Muhuru Bay, Kenya 
Advisor: Sherryl Broverman, associate professor of biology and global health
Project: Sexual and Reproductive Health Peer Advocacy and Empowerment in Muhuru Bay, Kenya

In the summer of 2016, Pranalee Patel taught middle school math, science, English and sexual education at primary schools near WISER Girls’ high school in Muhuru Bay, Kenya—a small village plagued by some of the highest HIV and teen pregnancy rates in the country. This summer, she returned to the community to design, implement and evaluate a reproductive health program for youth of all ages. She taught WISER high school students how to teach primary school students critical reproductive health lessons. By the end of the summer, nearly 300 students across six different primary schools benefited from these lessons.

“In our program evaluations, participating high school students remarked that this program provided one of the most empowering activities they had ever experienced,” Patel reflected. “I believe that helping prepare these young, community-embedded leaders can make an even more sustainable, direct impact on adolescent sexual health than bringing in external educators.”

Patel says this project has given her invaluable experience in planning and implementing interventions—skills that will help her in her future career as a public health professional.


High school girls from the WISER Girls' School teach
primary school students about reproductive health.


Casey MacDermod ’18 
Major: Cultural Anthropology
Minors: Global Health, History
Fieldwork Site: Guatemala (multiple cities)
Advisor: David Boyd, Hymowitz Professor of the Practice of Global Health
Project: Investigating Medical Decision-Making in Remote Maya Communities

After participating in the Student Research Training Program in Guatemala in summer 2016, Casey MacDermod returned to Guatemala this past summer to conduct research in the context of an upcoming change in the healthcare system in Sololá, Guatemala, that aims to connect traditional and Western healthcare providers. MacDermod traveled to three isolated and under-serviced indigenous Kaqchikel Mayan villages to identify the available healthcare resources and investigate healthcare decision-making among the women of the villages. This research is the topic of her senior honors thesis, and she’s currently preparing a manuscript for publication.

In addition to having an exceptionally fruitful summer research experience, MacDermod has benefited personally from the project. “I’ve made truly life-long relationships with the women I worked with in the three villages and beyond,” she said, “and I hope to return to the same area in May when I graduate from Duke.”


Casey MacDermod (right) with her translator and co-investigator,
Carolina (left), and a woman MacDermod surveyed at a health clinic.

Anson MacKinney ’19 
Major: Biology
Minors: Global Health, Chemistry
Fieldwork Site: Madre de Dios, Peru
Advisor: William Pan, assistant professor of global environmental health
Project: Dietary Intervention Evaluation for Methylmercury Exposure in Riverine Peruvian Communities

This past summer, Anson MacKinney traveled with three other undergraduates to Peru to study how the high blood-mercury levels in the remote village of Boca Manu and nearby communities could be reduced using dietary interventions. The students also held discussions with families about how mercury enters and accumulates in the body and how they can prevent or minimize this exposure. The research results will be given to the Peruvian Ministry of Health to serve as recommendations for how to deal with Peru’s mercury crisis and—MacKinney hopes—lead to improvements for the many people afflicted with mercury poisoning.

“Throughout the project, my team and I met some incredible people who made the experience all the more valuable to me,” MacKinney reflected. “It was one of the most impactful summers of my life.”


Anson MacKinney (left), and his boat driver--one of his many community partners in Peru.

Lissa Neira ’19 
Major: Evolutionary Anthropology
Minor: Global Health
Fieldwork Site: El Pital, Honduras
Advisor: Dennis Clements, professor of pediatrics, community and family medicine and global health
Project: Trash Disposal and Sanitation Methods in Honduras: An Educational Approach 

Lissa Neira spent five weeks this past summer conducting environmental research in rural Honduras. She and her team went door-to-door, asking people questions about what they do with their waste and what concerns they have with the trash maintenance system. They also gave educational talks in the community about how to turn trash into a resource—for example, they showed people how to compost and how to make brooms out of plastic bottles.

“I was delighted when people had questions, and I beamed with excitement when I was able to bond with people over our mutual goal of changing our environment for the better,” Neira said.


Lissa Neira (left) gives an educational talk to
community members about using trash as a resource.

Noor Tasnim ’18 
Majors: Evolutionary Anthropology, Global Health
Minor: Chemistry
Fieldwork Site: Mandena, Madagascar
Advisor: Charles Nunn, professor of evolutionary anthropology and global health
Project: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Foot Morphology and Injury

This summer, Noor Tasnim traveled to the remote village of Mandena in northeastern Madagascar to assess how differences in foot shape between males and females contribute to variations in foot, ankle and knee pain. He also studied differences in gait and the amount of force applied with the foot while walking. One of the most memorable aspects of his fieldwork was the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with members of the community—he visited with them in their homes and even joined their local soccer league.

“This fieldwork project has become a formative experience in my Duke career,” Tasnim said. “It has helped me figure out what I’m truly passionate about and how I want to use my Duke experience.”


Noor Tasnim (far left) conducts research with
community members on a road in Mandena, Madagascar.


  • Learn more about undergraduate experiential learning at DGHI, the Aalok S. Modi Global Health Fieldwork Fund and the Paul Farmer Global Health Fund.
  • Learn more about other DGHI donors.

“It was one of the most impactful summers of my life.”

Anson MacKinney, '19, biology major