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May 18, 2021

GHI Student Fellowship Unites Student Researchers and Faculty Mentors to Advance Georgetown’s Global Health Efforts

Each fall and spring semester, the Global Health Initiative (GHI) selects a cohort of undergraduate and graduate students to conduct global health research alongside faculty mentors through the GHI Student Fellows Program.

A Georgetown professor watches a student conduct a lab experiment
A Georgetown professor watches a student conduct a lab experiment

The program, launched in fall 2017, pairs student fellows with faculty in the global health field from Georgetown’s Main Campus, Medical Center, and Georgetown Law. By bringing together students and faculty across schools and departments, the fellowship brings together diverse perspectives across disciplines. Fellows work closely with their mentors on research projects, which span from policy analyses to systematic reviews to allow fellows to dive deep into learning new research skills and processes.

Throughout the spring 2021 semester, Global Human Development Program student Morgan Renfroe (G’21) worked with Wu Zeng, associate professor in the Department of International Health at the School of Nursing & Health Studies. Along with the United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization, they worked to develop a costing tool for humanitarian settings.

“Prior to this, I didn’t have much experience with health economics and financing as my main interests usually lie in infectious disease surveillance and prevention. This opportunity has opened my eyes to the world of health financing and cross-sector collaboration in global health,” Renfroe reflected.

Student-Faculty Collaboration

The global health fellowship supports about 10 fellows each semester. In addition to research with faculty, fellows meet monthly to hear from guest speakers and write blog posts on global health issues or events. Many of the fellows also participate in other GHI programming, such as simulation exercises, special projects, and regular “brown bag” lunch events with Georgetown faculty.

“One of the things I have learned during the pandemic is the value of clear, frequent, and open communication, both with respect to research mentorship but also project management more generally,” said Dr. Claire Standley, mentor of spring 2021 GHI fellow Ryan Remmel (SFS’22).

Remmel had the opportunity to work with two mentors, Dr. Claire Standley and Dr. Ellen Carlin at the Center for Global Health Science and Security, to conduct a systematic review examining ways to test for multiple different pathogens at once for individuals with acute fever.

“Dr. Carlin and Dr. Standley have both provided tremendous mentorship and support at every step of the process, while still challenging me to explore new topics and seeking my input as we've co-designed the project,” Remmel said of his mentorship experience. “I've also enjoyed the chance to participate in a broader, university-wide research community, where I've met some incredible student researchers and learned about global health challenges from new perspectives and disciplines.”

Video call on a computer with a person in a medical mask
Video call on a computer with a person in a medical mask

COVID-19 Research

During the spring 2021 semester, in particular, many fellows participated in research on COVID-19, allowing them to be at the forefront of pandemic-related knowledge.

Amanda Chu (SFS’22), an undergraduate student in the Walsh School of Foreign Service studying science, technology, and international affairs, assisted Leticia Bode, an associate professor in the Communication, Culture, and Technology master’s program at Georgetown University. Their research encompassed political and health misinformation research during COVID-19. Chu observed that given the feelings of uncertainty and crisis created by the pandemic, people are more prone to seek and spread misinformation, potentially severely undermining the public health response.

“As a student interested in science journalism and communications, I've been fascinated by what compels people to believe and share information and the consequences that follow,” Chu said of her experience.

The consequences of health misinformation highlight the many factors beyond medical countermeasures and preventatives that determine an effective public health response. It's been a great experience working closely with a faculty expert on the topic.

While student fellows hone their research skills and get insight on global health careers, faculty members have extra hands to assist with their projects and the opportunity to form valuable relationships with their mentees.

“Amanda is a fantastic writer and editor, so she has helped to write literature summaries of misinformation research—a constantly moving field that is very hard to keep up with!” said Bode. “She has also helped to edit a survey my co-author and I will be fielding in May 2021, looking at people's experiences with misinformation and correction on social media. The project is so much better because of her participation in our work!”

A Fellowship for the Future

As fellows gain valuable expertise and insight from the hands-on work with their mentors, many are also using this experience to prime themselves for a future in public health. The fellowship provides ample opportunities to network with faculty members and the global health community, discover other fields in global health, and learn skills that fellows can apply to whichever career journey they choose.

Nadia Samaha (M’24), a first-year medical student at Georgetown University School of Medicine (GUMC), learned about clinical trials manipulating the gut microbiota in infants, and she assisted her mentor in creating a protocol to conduct similar trials at MedStar hospitals in the United States.

“As these studies get launched at GUMC, I plan to return and get involved in the clinical and laboratory research of these trials measuring changes in the microbiota and immunological markers after probiotic therapy,” Samaha said. “I am also putting together a review article about the influence of COVID-19 on the gut microbiota and exploring the gut-brain axis as a potential mechanism for which neurological symptoms such as loss of taste and smell develop.”

The GHI fellowship gives students the tools they need for a career in global health and scientific research while also emphasizing the Jesuit tradition of cura personalis (care for the whole person), lessons and values that GHI fellows will be able to apply wherever their future takes them.