2008 Boren Fellowships
Yoruba, South Africa
My desire to impact global health, along with my previous work experience in health disparities and some encouraging words from my mentors, all led me to apply for a Boren Fellowship for study in South Africa, which is experiencing the worst HIV and AIDS epidemic in the world. Studying in South Africa was a natural fit for me. As a PhD candidate in bio-behavioral health at Penn State, I was already involved in a project that sought to build research capacity through collaborative efforts with several South African institutions.
My project in South Africa focused on reducing HIV and AIDS-related stigma, which is one of the most negative and persistent factors of HIV transmission, and a constant challenge in fighting the pandemic. My population of interest was young adults in university settings, since this was a population that had been understudied, but whose attitudes and beliefs about HIV/AIDS were influenced in very different ways than other adults. The procedures for conducting my study included making key contacts at the University of the Western Cape and the University of Limpopo, obtaining research ethics approval, developing the study protocol and data collection instruments, enrolling participants, collecting data, and delivering a culturally appropriate behavioral intervention. Guiding my own research project in a country where things do not necessarily operate the same as we might expect them to in the U.S. was both challenging and rewarding work. The experience impressed upon me the need to be culturally competent when collaborating with individuals who live by a different set of values and ways of understanding. Because much of the population in the Western Cape region speaks Afrikaans, I studied this language and incorporated it into my project. My study of Afrikaans involved taking a course that provided a comprehensive overview of the language and enlisting the help of tutors and faculty members from the University of Western Cape. With the help of native speakers, I created an Afrikaans version of my data collection instrument and incorporated it into my study.
Immediately after graduating with my PhD, I began to fulfill the NSEP Service Requirement as a post-doctoral research fellow with the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. I use the experience from my Boren Fellowship program to inform study procedures of behavioral research and to advise grantees who fall under my assigned project.
My Boren Fellowship allowed me to explore my passion for global health and to translate that passion into a career in public service. As a result, I continue to take every opportunity to incorporate cultural learning and exchange into my daily life.
Written: October 2010