Resilience, Partnerships, Caring

Duke Global Health's 2021 Student Research Showcase mirrors the very qualities that will make our students successful global health professionals in the years ahead

Published April 09, 2021 under Research News

Written by Taylor Braswell, Alicia Wolverton, and Mary Brophy Marcus

2021 Showcase

The spring Student Research Showcase at Duke Global Health Institute is usually a festive, in-person event where crowds mingle in the grandeur of the School of Medicine’s Trent Semans Center for Health Education, view research posters by global health undergraduate and graduate students, celebrate award-winning projects and nibble on gourmet treats. 

This year, we celebrated our 2021 Duke Global Health Research Showcase via Zoom and online. While the institute's director, Dr. Dennis Clements, wasn’t able to hand out awards in person, students, their family and friends, faculty, and our international partners watched virtual presentations and had a chance to check out all of the 37 projects by our students which spanned research from 17 countries.

The April 7 event began with remarks from Dave Gendell, T’83, chairman of the Duke Global Health Institute Board of Advisors, noting that it has been an extremely trying year for students at every level, but that they prevailed. Typically, international travel and research are at the heart of Duke’s global health master’s degree program, but Gendell noted that students found creative ways to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and conduct compelling work with the support of faculty mentors. 

“They traded field placements for Zoom meetings and WhatsApp messages and in the process, they displayed some of the most important qualities for success in global health: resilience, patience, flexibility, humility and an incredible will to persevere even in the toughest of circumstances,” he said.

Four students graduating later this spring from the global health master’s degree program were selected by the institute’s education team to discuss their work:

  • Cordelia Kenney whose research focused on factors impacting sustainable implementation of adolescent mental health interventions.
  • Siddhesh Zadey, who studied access to surgical care in rural India.
  • Abby Turner, whose poster showed the influence of spatio-temporal factors on small mammal trapping and species distribution in an area of northern Madagascar.
  • Zoha Farooqi, whose research looked at the impact of COVID-19 on maternal and child health services in developing countries.

Pivoting in a Pandemic

Duke neurosurgeon and epilepsy expert Tony Fuller, director of research and Uganda Operations for the Division of Global Neurosurgery and Neurology, moderated a 3-student panel to discuss research processes and takeaways from the past year. Dr. Fuller is also a 2015 graduate of the global health master’s degree program at Duke. Student panelists included Liz Aimone, who will graduate this spring with a master’s in global health degree; 
Jackie Gerson, a doctoral scholar; and Sarah Watkins, an undergrad global health major.

Fuller asked the panel: “What were some of the key changes you had to make to pivot your research when the pandemic hit?”

Gerson, who had been working in Peru and Senegal prior to the pandemic, said she began relying on her community partners in Senegal to take a lead in the research project. 

“They took on a much larger role in terms of carrying out survey developing, and carrying out the entire project themselves. It was a great opportunity for me to train them but let them take the lead on deciding where the project was going and becoming major players on all aspect of it,” Gerson said, adding that it was an opportunity she wished she had realized earlier on.

Aimone told us after the event COVID-19 travel restrictions kept her from travel to Harare, Zimbabwe, in the summer of 2020. 

“Luckily, Professor Karrie Stewart facilitated a successful partnership with partners at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, allowing me to conduct secondary data analysis. I conducted a stakeholder analysis by analyzing 75 qualitative interview summaries from seven key stakeholder groups. Ultimately, my study supports the use of a community-based intervention to promote sexual and reproductive healthcare services for adolescents and young people in Harare, Zimbabwe,” Aimone said, also thanking her faculty mentor Kearsley Stewart and first-year master’s in global health student, Dorothy Nam.

“They were incredibly supportive throughout the thesis process. They helped me pivot my study completely and supported the new timeline of my study,” Aimone said.

Other positive notes for Aimone: She improved her project management skills and interpersonal communications with global partners.

“I hope the international partners we do have in the future have more of a role in the research and can shine and show that they are just as contributive to the end results as the students are,” Aimone said.

They traded field placements for Zoom meetings and WhatsApp messages and in the process, displayed some of the most important qualities for success in global health: resilience, patience, flexibility, humility and an incredible will to persevere even in the toughest of circumstances.

Dave Gendell T’83 — Chairman of the Duke Global Health Institute Board of Advisors

Award Winners

Dr. Clements announced poster winners — all selected by previous graduates of the masters in global health program at Duke — and gave closing remarks. This year’s winners included Hiwot Zewdie, whose poster, “Association Between Greenspace and Depressive Symptoms Among Young Adults in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.”

After the presentations, Zewdie said her first-place win was unexpected. 

“But I definitely used it as an excuse to take the rest of the day off,” she added. 

Zewdie plans to pursue a doctoral degree in epidemiology at the University of Washington after she graduates from Duke this spring. 

“I am excited to continue exploring these questions of place and health both globally and domestically,” she said.

Runners-up were Liz Aimone, for “Barriers to uptake of sexual and reproductive health care services in Harare, Zimbabwe: a comparative stakeholder analysis,” and Natalie Vance for “Quantification of plasmodium falciparum cyclophilin 19b transcripts in normal and sickle-trait hemoglobin red blood cells.”

Vance told us after the event, that “COVID really threw a curveball” at her research last year.

“Like many of my classmates, I had to switch gears and ended up starting a completely new project in September 2020. I was fortunate to continue working with malaria and was able to still do bench-top science for my thesis project rather than a secondary data analysis,” said Vance, who had become interested in parasitology and infectious diseases during her undergraduate education. 

“It was exciting to conduct a more exploratory research project that allowed me to hypothesize on the molecular mechanisms that are driving the decreased expression of cyclophilin 19B in sickle-cell trait individuals that we observed,” she said.

After the event, Lysa MacKeen, assistant director for experiential learning at Duke Global Health Institute, pointed out that the prioritization of community and partner needs as the institute pivoted from on-the-ground to virtual education and research was key to making this past year a success for all.

"The annual showcase is always an opportunity to share and celebrate how our partners, faculty and students collaborate. In these challenging times, we were really pleased to have a way to continue that tradition and highlight the support and flexibility shown by everyone involved in these projects over the past year," MacKeen added.

Dr. Clements wrapped up this year’s gathering by thanking the institute’s global partners and faculty, and he had a special message for our students.

“I want to thank our students who have been just incredible, not just in the way they’ve completed their work, but in all the ways they supported each other. You’ve all forged bonds through this experience and I hope you will all continue to nurture them,” Dr. Clements said.

“The positive spirit they have has been an inspiration to all of us.”

Visit our 2021 Showcase page to learn more about our students’ research projects.