Independent Minds, Working Together

Students Attend Global Health Conference with Lilly Project Grant

Samuel Kitara and Erin Plews-Ogan seek to spread the word about global health issues

May 13, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Global health issues might not resonate with a majority of college students, but Samuel Kitara and Erin Plews-Ogan, are imploring their classmates to at least consider the size and scope of the problem and the opportunities for students to explore the field and become engaged.

Kitara, a sophomore biology major from Uganda, and Plews-Ogan, a junior anthropology major from Charlottesville, Va., recently attended the annual Global Health and Innovation Conference, organized by Unite for Sight and hosted by Yale University. The two received a grant from the Lilly Project for the Exploration of Vocation, and both are now encouraging students to take advantage of this program as they explore possible career paths.

Since returning to campus, Kitara and Plews-Ogan have become even more passionate about global health. “I come from an area with very few hospitals and doctors, so this really hits home with me,” says Kitara, who has received a fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology to conduct research on campus this summer. “Unfortunately, many of our (Wooster) students are not aware. They don’t get much exposure to global health issues.”

That’s why Kitara decided to attend the conference. “I wanted to learn how to get students involved in global health initiatives through volunteering or advocacy,” he said. “I also wanted to learn more about innovation and the different technologies being used to improve and increase access to healthcare in rural settings.”

Plews-Ogan also wants to spread the word to students who might have an interest in global health. “I went (to the conference) for similar reasons,” she says. “I did a medical humanitarian fellowship involving HIV/AIDS education and outreach in South Africa through the Lilly Project last summer, and that really got me interested in global health. I wanted to learn more about HIV/AIDS and global health in general.”

Both Kitara and Plews-Ogan came away from the conference with renewed enthusiasm and a noteworthy list of good ideas. “I was very inspired by the number of students and their involvement at all levels,” said Plews-Ogan, who will spend the summer in Thailand conducting research on the role of community health concerns in motivating an organic agriculture movement for her Senior Independent Study project (Wooster’s nationally renowned undergraduate research experience). “I was also struck by the diversity within the field of global health and how it integrates a variety of fields, from cellphone technology to the effort to reduce the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. It was great to see it come together at the conference.”

In the coming year, Kitara and Plews-Ogan hope to take their message to the masses. “Global health is important because it takes a broader perspective on health issues,” said Plews-Ogan. “It’s important for different disciplines to come together and address the issue in a holistic way.”

Interested students can learn more about the conference and global health by visiting the blog site with reflections on the conference by Kitara and Plews-Ogan. For more information about exploration through the Lilly Project, visit the organization’s website.