Minority Health International Research Training Program Positions Students for Future Success

by Jayanni Webster, MHIRT Program Assistant

CBU prides itself on effective and enjoyable teaching. An integral part of such teaching is having students perform research internships. There are different ways for students to perform their research: with a CBU professor, a researcher at another local institution such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), or with a researcher participating in grant funded research in the U.S.

Participants in the 2014 MHIRT projects presented the results from their summer international research experiences on September 27, 2014.

Participants in the 2014 MHIRT projects presented the results from their summer international research experiences on September 27, 2014.

In addition to the above opportunities, CBU is pleased to provide an excellent opportunity to do this research via Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) internships at sites in Brazil and Uganda. MHIRT is an innovative science and research initiative that provides funded summer research opportunities for students in basic science, public health education, and qualitative projects. Started in 2000, MHIRT is a major collaborative project involving CBU and other regional academic institutions. Because the program serves underrepresented students in these fields it offers these unique research experiences at no cost to individuals through an all-expenses paid stipend funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald, CBU Professor of Biology, and Dr. Julia HanebrinkPsych 2001,, Adjunct Lecturer of Anthropology at CBU and Assistant Professor at Rhodes College, co-direct the MHIRT Program. These faculty assist in the recruitment of students locally at their institutions. Students and faculty travel to these countries to conduct research on biomedical and behavioral health disparities in collaboration with leading scientists and researchers from foreign universities and community organizations. Approximately 15 students participate in this MHIRT program each year in the summer after having participated in preparation workshops—including language lessons—the prior spring.

This year, the National Institutes of Health renewed CBU’s MHIRT grant for five years. The grant funding of $1.3 million extends the MHIRT program through 2019. CBU’s program has been funded by NIH for 15 continuous years, and the successful renewal is largely due to efforts by Dr. Malinda Fitzgerald and Julia Hanebrink, pictured in the image above at far left and right respectively.

CBU student Daryl Stephens (Psych ’14), poses with Susan, secretary, finance and liaisons officer at the Ishaka Health Plan where she did research on Community-Based Health Financing in Uganda

CBU student Daryl Stephens (Psych ’14), poses with Susan, secretary, finance and liaisons officer at the Ishaka Health Plan where she did research on Community-Based Health Financing in Uganda

Malinda Fitzgerald and Julia Hanebrink are the amazing co-directors of this one-of-a-kind program, unique in its focus on both biomedical and qualitative research training. MHIRT has provided life-changing experiences for many, many students who otherwise would not have access to international travel or global health research opportunities. I am so grateful to have been able to return to Uganda with MHIRT participants in 2013 and 2014. I am thrilled that future students will continue to benefit from the momentum of the MHIRT program.” – Susannah Acuff, MHIRT Alum and 2014 Uganda Site Director

But the success of the program cannot solely be summed up in the grant renewal, but in its immediate impact on students.  Hope Npimnee , who participated research in Brazil this summer, had this reflection to share:  “I realize now, that when I applied to this program I was making a bold statement: I want to give myself the opportunity of a lifetime to grow both scientifically and personally. Reflecting on my experience in Brazil, nothing could be truer about that statement. I feel immensely more prepared for the medical school application process. But in addition to this, I feel more prepared to do what is needed of every global citizen by simply being more aware and open to cross-cultural interactions.

The most wonderful things happen as a result of these summer research experiences. Students go on to graduate programs in dentistry, medicine, anthropology, epidemiology, public health, and biological sciences. Some dedicate their lives to helping others by setting up non-profit organizations, or working with the foreign sites. All continue to be globally involved. You can read about the 2014 students’ wonderful, life-changing experiences at the new MHIRT Blog. Deadline for applications for summer 2015 is December 19 (early bird) and January 2 (final deadline). For more information, visit the MHIRT website.