3rd Quarter, 2005
Medical Professions Scholarship Winner
“My interest in Epidemiology stems from an upbringing in rural Botswana and Senegal. Between 1982 and 1992 my father conducted agricultural research funded by USAID through land grant universities, placing our family in the international aid community for the first half of my life. During my time in Botswana I gained exposure to the largely agrarian economy of sub-Saharan Africa. I was able to observe the way in which the peripheral impact of even minor epidemics had the power to cripple the livelihood of an entire community.”
A Portion of Aisha’s Winning Essay:
I am a recent graduate of Dartmouth College pursuing a career in sustainable health care development with specific emphasis on International Public Health. My interest in Epidemiology stems from an upbringing in rural Botswana and Senegal. Between 1982 and 1992 my father conducted agricultural research funded by USAID through land grant universities, placing our family in the international aid community for the first half of my life.
During my time in Botswana I gained exposure to the largely agrarian economy of sub-Saharan Africa. I was able to observe the way in which the peripheral impact of even minor epidemics had the power to cripple the livelihood of an entire community. In the 21st century these communities are feeling the long-wave social and economic affects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which research indicates is only beginning to unfold. The need for further investigation into the nature of this virus and its associated illnesses is matched only by a deficit in basic prophylactic measures bolstering treatment and education exigencies.
Although my interest in public health reaches far beyond the scope of this outbreak, as an African I feel a strong personal obligation to work towards halting the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa through new research and implementation of tried mechanisms of prevention. Research and development of specific treatments and preventive mechanisms will ultimately curb the spread of this incurable and yet easily preventable epidemic. My decision to work towards a Masters of Public Health is the result of these objectives guided by my personal, academic, and professional experiences which have both informed and fed my desire to learn more about the Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS and the illnesses associated with the pandemic.
I have always fostered an interest in science and mathematics, believing that these areas of study necessarily segued into the medical profession. Upon completion of my MPH I plan to continue my studies in either a doctoral or medical program; however, I have found that the study of disease transmission is what initially drew me to the health fields.
Like many young children I contracted chicken pox from my siblings. My little brother carried the virus home from pre-school, passing it on to our youngest brother with whom he shared a room. As school let out for spring break my mother decided to expedite the process, quarantining us to the house. I managed to stave off the infection for several days by avoiding any direct contact with my brothers and then pox-marked sister, but by weeks end we were all congregated in the living room to have our blisters rubbed with calamine lotion. The resistance an immune system develops in response to viral exposure amazed me, and I was even more ecstatic to learn that although my case was mild I would likely never contract chicken pox again.
As it pertains to my intended course of study, the occurrence of natural resistance in epidemiological research offers a myriad of possibilities beyond basic epidemic modeling. In an Epidemiological Masters program I would like to explore inherent and acquired resistance and their affects on disease transmission, as well as the potential for preventative treatments and inoculations these natural defenses afford.
In college I had the opportunity to work for the Chemistry department as a teacher assistant. I was responsible for explicating complex bodies of material for introductory students, and with this position I learned to effectively prepare data for dissemination in a functional and user-friendly format. I utilized these skills to organize epidemiological research for a course titled Calculus Applications in Biology and Medicine. Under the instruction of Professor Gregory Leibon, several other students and I modeled disease transmission in closed and open systems, including an outbreak of bacterial conjunctivitis on the Dartmouth College campus. Due to the infirmaries incorrect diagnosis of the initial pinkeye cases the bacterium spread rapidly, facilitated by the widespread use of public computer terminals. We predicted trends of infection according to behavior and interaction between the student, faculty and college employee populations.
From this coursework I learned methods of extrapolating and quantitatively analyzing various vectors of disease transmission from information organized into conditional data sets. This experience was not only my first exposure to mathematical determination of disease behavior but it also afforded me the opportunity to observe an epidemic from its onset to its eventual termination.
Aside from academic and personal experience, I have pursued community-based non-profit work relevant to my interests in public health. As an undergraduate I was a member and officer of a co-ed student corporation and living community. Elected to the position of risk manager, I was charged with supporting the mental and physical health and well being of my peers. I worked closely with the House Manager to maintain a clean and stable environment, with an open forum for discussion of student health concerns. I provided counseling and conducted informational sessions on sexually transmitted diseases and socially influenced mental health problems including eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug addiction.
The local public health resources I identified during my term as Risk Manager were valuably applicable to my work with the DREAM Program; a non-profit mentoring organization for underprivileged Vermont children. I worked to meet their basic health needs; controlling the spread of lice and minor infections by teaching proper hygiene, administering treatment, and providing good nutrition and physical education. Local philanthropic support primarily funded these projects, but through my four years at Dartmouth I learned several other means of financing research and programming efforts.
As a coordinator for the Dartmouth Alliance for Children of Color (DACC), I lobbied for funding from campus advisory committees; in 2002, with the Student Global AIDS Campaign I organized on-campus letter writing drives in support of an increase in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis; and as a volunteer for the Global Health Council’s Norwich, VT office I conducted research in support of the African Council for Sustainable Health Development (ACOSHED), an organization founded to continue the work of the World Bank Panel for Better Health in Africa (BHA). My experiences have provided me with exposure to some of the many practical applications of Biostatistical and Epidemiological knowledge. I utilized my time as an undergraduate to explore a burgeoning interest in public health, and I am now seeking the opportunity for more specialized study at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
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