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Elon senior spending summer in Ethiopia with Harvard public health research program

Sarah Holdren '18 is participating in the Harvard University School of Public Health's Multidiscipinary International Research Training program in Ethiopia.

By Sarah Mulnick '17

While her peers fill their months away from Elon University with internships and summer jobs, Sarah Holdren ‘18 is packing her bags and making sure she has her passport in order to travel abroad to conduct research.

Sarah Holdren '18

​Holdren, who is majoring in anthropology with minors in public health and chemistry, is spending eight weeks in Adis Ababa, Ethiopia, this summer through the Harvard University School of Public Health MIRT program. Her placement is with the Adis Continental Institute of Public Health, where she will be analyzing the effect of caffeine on ischemic strokes.

MIRT, the Multidisciplinary International Research Training program, is a national program designed to encourage underrepresented students to pursue careers in biomedical and behavioral science research careers. Holdren said that she found it through another internship application, and wasn’t expecting much –– but when she got it, she said, she was thrilled.

“I didn’t expect to be sent to Ethiopia,” she said, “But I’m excited about it. From an anthropological perspective, there’s no better place to study. And it’ll be huge in my traveling growth – I’ve always loved going to interesting places around the globe.”

She added that she sees it as an opportunity to expand her skill set –– Holdren  has experience in qualitative research, and looks forward to learning more about the quantitative aspects while working with the statistics that the institute has gathered. While in Ethiopia, she expects to be analyzing data and beginning the process of writing the manuscript, hopefully to be published.

Holdren hails from the Appalachian Ohio region, and her passion for public health and learning about the stories that patients have has been inspired by her local community. “It’s an inspiration for me in that I do see all the health care disparities in my own community,” she said.

“Primary care is hard to come by, and people end up going to bigger cities for their health care," Holdren said. I"’d like to try to see how we can understand our health care system and make it better, not just in the access to care but also in overall quality.”

She intends to become a doctor specializing in maternal and child health, and has begun her Lumen Prize and Honors Fellow research into how infant-feeding practices and policies in neonatal intensive care units. Working with her Lumen mentor Aunchalee Palmquist, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, Holdren is examining how those practices and policies impact the family experience around necrotizing enterocolitis, a medical condition that affects the tissues of the bowels.

Elon has been formative in allowing her to pursue her dual passions of anthropology and medicine, Holdren said. “I’ve always been interested in not just wanting to go into medicine and be a scientist,” she said, “but also training myself to be a good person who can be empathetic and capture the human experience around how we think about sickness and health care.”

“It’s been really beneficial for me to feel like there’s a place to talk about where those two fields intersect and people want to make it better,” Holdren said.

Along with her research, Holdren is a member of Kappa Delta, serves as  the 2017 executive director of collaboration and outreach at EV!, and is a student coordinator at Open Door Clinic in Burlington.


Owen Covington,
6/6/2017 9:10 AM