Two UVa-Wise students are going places this summer.
Rion Caldwell and Logan Baker have been selected as Healthy Appalachia Institute Global Health Scholars, which means they will spend several weeks in Limpopo, South Africa as part of research teams of faculty and students from the University of Virginia, its Center for Global Health, and the University of Venda.
Baker, a sophomore biochemistry major and public health minor, will work with U.Va Associate Professor Becca Dillingham, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Rogawski and graduate assistant Courtney Hill, along with UNIVEN faculty and students on the Madi-Trial Project.
The project, Baker explained, involves working to reduce stunting of growth in children in Limpopo, Province. About 30 percent of the children have stunted growth and stunted development. The drinking water seems to be the culprit.
Novel water treatment devices, such as a ceramic disk and safe storage container developed at the University, are being used to reduce the presence of bacteria and enteroviruses in the drinking water. The bacteria and enteroviruses have been linked to the stunted growth in children.
“The Madi-Trial Project is a two year study of a water treatment device,” Baker said.
Stool samples from children in eligible households are collected every three months, and screened for the presence of certain bacteria and enteroviruses. At the end of the study, the most effective water treatment device will be given to each participating household, and the findings will be disseminated to the community. Baker will conduct the DNA extraction, multiplex qPCR and data analysis for this project, as well as working in the field to collect water samples.
“I’m a little nervous, but it will be great to step out of my comfort zone,” he said.
Baker was slated to research in South Africa last year, but a medical issue prevented him from traveling. Instead, he spent time on Grounds in Charlottesville conducting research at the Ryan White Clinic and the Center for Global Health. His work involved a mobile health app for people who live with HIV. The PositiveLinks app was developed at the University.
“I focused on how members interacted with the app and how using PositiveLinks affected clinical outcomes for patients,” he said. “I performed secondary data analysis on usability interviews from the second phase of the study as well as recording patients’ lab values and appointment adherence data and conducting thirty-day check-in interviews with members.”
His goal in collecting the data was to find ways to have the most positive impact on the patients who use the app. Baker worked to study how patients used the app and look for the best patient outcomes. His data was incorporated into the Center for Global Health research, and he will present at two conferences later this year. One is in New York and the other in Denver, Colorado.
“I hope my research will be a benefit to them,” he said. “They are working on a paper that will include my work, so I’ll hopefully have my first publication before I leave my undergraduate studies.”
Baker was part of the College’s Early College Academy, a program that allows qualified high school seniors to take courses at UVa-Wise in a structured environment for half of a school day. He said the rigorous program gave him a realistic taste of college curriculum and prepared him for his undergraduate career. He was accepted to the University, but liked what he found at UVa-Wise. He was also pleased to find so many opportunities for undergraduate research on campus and beyond.
“That is what makes UVa-Wise so special,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to do research here and abroad. The professors here really care for the students, and we have many opportunities to excel.”
Baker serves as president of Sigma Zeta Math and Science Honor Society, and the Virginia Rural Health Association student chapter, a chemistry tutor for the UVa-Wise Early College Academy and is an active member of the Pre-Professional Club and the Darden Honor Society. He plans to attend medical school and plans to pursue a career in infectious disease.
Caldwell, a junior biochemistry major and public health minor, is from Wise, Virginia. She will work with U.Va Assistant Professor of Psychology Karen Ingersoll and graduate assistant Christina Ross in partnership with faculty and students from the University of Venda. Their project will focus on alcohol related sexual risk and intimate partner violence in UNIVEN students and local community members, and will seek to gain an understanding of how the people of Limpopo perceive and manage these issues, ultimately working with the community to develop interventions.
“It’s so exciting for me,” Rion said. “I’ve lived in Wise my entire life, and now I’m going to a completely different continent.”
Limpopo has the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome in the world. Caldwell wants to do all she can to study the issue and help find a solution. The trip also offers her a chance to work on an important public health project, something she wants to do as a future physician.
“I just feel that this is my calling,” she said.
She has met several members of the team she will work with in Limpopo and is looking forward to the eight weeks in South Africa and two weeks on Grounds at the University.
“They told us to expect the unexpected and to be flexible,” she said.
The work in Limpopo is the first undergraduate research project she will tackle. She has friends who attend bigger colleges and universities, but she said UVa-Wise offers as many if not more opportunities for undergraduate research.
“We get individual attention from our professors and we are presented with many more opportunities at this school, and it’s not just because of the size of the College,” she said.
She is a member of the Sigma Zeta Honor Society, Darden Society, National Society of Leadership and Success, Pre-Professional Club, Environmental Club, and the Student Government Association, where she serves as public relations officer. Rion plans to attend medical school and has an interest in working in rural and underserved communities when she graduates.
Since 2010, Healthy Appalachia Institute has funded 12 UVa-Wise students to participate in global health research in South Africa, Uganda, St. Kitts and Nevis in partnership with the U.Va. Center for Global Health. For more information, contact Margie Tomann at firstname.lastname@example.org.