Virtual global summer research supports UVA students

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Joshua McCray, a rising third-year student at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, was planning to research the effectiveness of Tongan traditional medicine in the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga this summer before the pandemic plans cancelled his travel and research plans.

Instead, UVA’s Center for Global Health and UVA-Wise offered him a socially distant and safe alternative. “I am working on a research project on drinking water contamination in Appalachia, funded through a CGH Research in Virtual Environments Award,” said McCray.

In the last 4 decades, CGH has become a catalyst for interdisciplinary approaches to human health needs and health equity across UVA and UVA-Wise. It is doing it again this summer, reworking its engagement and planning for summer research to support accessible and rigorous student and faculty research and partnerships as constraints on travel from the pandemic change research plans.

“We have partnered with Schools across Grounds as well as organizations at UVA like the Global Infectious Disease Institute (GIDI) to create faculty-mentored student research opportunities within the context of COVID-19 research; we have expanded our virtual Journal club, and are planning an extended model of the student-run Conflux Journal to  include more opportunities for our students,” said Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, Director of Center for Global Health.

Here are some of the student scholars’ virtual projects for this summer that are underway with help from UVA’s Center for Global Health.

Flennery
Flennery Enneking-Norton Photo Credit: Center for Global Health

Flannery Enneking-Norton, SON

Project: Nepal Virtual Library

Building research capacity for clinicians and teams in low-and-middle income countries by increasing their access to informational resources.

“This project has honed my collaboration and communication skills significantly. I work closely with Cat Elmore, a doctoral student at UVA, and we are continually bouncing ideas off each other to problem solve the various challenges that arise from this novel undertaking,” said Enneking-Norton.

When she began this project, she was not sure of research “gap” that she was trying to fill: how to build research capacity for clinicians and teams in low-and-middle income countries by increasing their access to informational resources.

After working on the project for a month, and reviewing countless articles, videos, and websites, she realizes how valuable it is to consolidate the resources and share it with clinicians globally, through our centralized Virtual Library.

“Previously, when I thought of barriers to research, I thought about grant funding, or methodological design flaws that compromise internal validity. From a place of privileged ignorance, I had not considered that a lack of educational and informational sources, geared toward resource-limited contexts, undermined and deterred research efforts in LMICs,” she said adding that this project has helped her to realize that conceptualization of science, and scientific research, is limited and not universal.

“I want to be a more considerate and conscientious researcher and advocate, and this project is helping me achieve it.”

 

Mikalaya Mason
Mikayla Mason Photo credit: Center for Global Health
Reanna Panagides
Reanna Pangides Photo Credit: Center for Global Health
Reanna Panagides and Mikayla Mason, SON

Project: Reproduction Health in Honduras.

Disseminating sexual and reproductive health education materials to a Honduran community.

Reanna Panagides is a recent graduate and Mikayla Mason is a rising 4th year student in the School of Nursing. They have both worked with Center for Global Health as CGH scholars. These global experience CGH scholarships are funded with the generous support of donors. Panagides is currently building on the research she conducted last year in Roatan, Honduras which involved a community needs assessment

They both say that they have found great value in reflecting and connecting with community partners in Roatan, Honduras and their team members based in California throughout this pandemic, and bond with each other over this common experience.

“As the world slowly shifted to one of isolation, we were grateful to be able to find a way to have a positive impact remotely,” said Panagides. “Instead of going into the Honduran communities and hosting peer educator run education clinics, we adapted our project to use Facebook live to disseminate sexual and reproductive health education materials.”

They add that COVID has allowed them to develop better communication and organizational skills needed to be in constant communication in order to ensure the successful implementation of the study.

“We have transformed our programs to be delivered through Facebook Live sessions, in both English and Spanish once a week,” said Mason. “In addition to our sexual and reproductive health topics ranging from anatomy to birth control to pregnancy, we also added a Covid-19 topic. Although we have had to make adjustments to these plans it is still our goal to go to Roatan and connect with our partners and the community as a whole. We have worked diligently in collaboration with them for so long, that when we can finally all meet it will be extremely meaningful.”

 

Josh McCray
Josh McCray Photo Credit: Center for Global Health

Joshua McCray, UVA Wise

Project: drinking water contamination in Appalachia

The project is a systematic review and meta-analysis on the nature and extent of drinking water contamination as well as associated health outcomes in Appalachia. Being a life-long resident of Wise County, located in the heart of Appalachia, the project is very personal for McCray.

“Conducting research remotely is different from the other research experiences,” he said. “Not being able to sit down with your research mentor and team to discuss any issues or thoughts on the project is challenging," said the recipient of the 2020 Pamela B. and Peter C. Kelly Award for improving health in Limpopo.

While emails and video conferencing cannot supplement the feeling of an in-person team discussion, a rapid brainstorming session or conducting experiments in a laboratory, but McCray feels that virtual research is a learning experience, much like the 2020.

“I am extremely thankful to be working on such an important research project in such a challenging time for students. Although I did not get to travel to Tonga, the virtual internship I received with The University of Virginia Center for Global Health is an amazing alternative.”

More information:

Center for Global Health Partnerships

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