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Lumen Scholar shows economic benefits to free surgeries

Your heart should tell you it’s good to offer free surgeries in poor nations for children limited by certain physical handicaps. Andrea “Drea” Dorrow, the sixth student to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on the inaugural class of Lumen Scholars, can now tell you why it makes good public policy, too.

Andrea "Drea" Dorrow with her Lumen mentor, economics professor Steve DeLoach

More than a year of research by the Elon University senior from Harrisburg, Pa., found that families in the southeast African nation of Malawi benefit from surgeries by a nonprofit hospital to correct ailments like clubfoot that limit lifetime income. Once a child can fully help around the home or farm, families produce more goods.

Lump together the thousands of households with children who need those surgeries, and the numbers speak for themselves. More purchasing power equates to greater economic growth for the nation, a conclusion Dorrow will make in research presentations this spring.

“Having surgery absolutely is beneficial,” said the economics and business administration double major, a 2006 graduate of Cedar Cliff High School in Harrisburg.

Dorrow collected data on gender, income and average life expectancy, then turned to her own forecasting models to prove how helpful those procedures can be, despite the immediate costs not directly tied to surgery. She also traveled to Africa using funds from the Lumen Prize to interview parents of afflicted children.

Why did parents seek the surgeries for their children? What thought processes did they use to make those decisions? What were the trade-offs? Answers to those questions shed light on the discovery that relatively few children go under the knife.

“The biggest inhibitor I saw was that it just wasn’t feasible for many families,” said Dorrow, who noted hidden costs – and risks – to parents such as leaving other kids home while traveling with a sick child. “How can you justify having one child being cured and having a productive life, when you risk the lives of the rest of your children?

“Then for some, it really is a money issue,” she said. “They don’t have access to credit for things like travel expenses.”

Her research will have a direct impact on CURE International, a nonprofit that performs surgeries and provided Dorrow access to patients at its hospital in Malawi. Dorrow believes that grant writers and fundraisers will use her work in the coming years to make a case for why donors should consider giving to the charity.

What’s more, her findings lend support to what her Lumen mentor describes as possible “social business,” where entrepreneurs make small loans to parents whose children need surgery. A full recovery and productive life would easily repay the loans.

The research into health care in developing nations is one small way the deeply religious Dorrow feels she can return the fortunes of her own upbringing. “I feel I’ve been so fortunate and blessed, and I go to Elon. My parents have always provided for me,” she said. “What can I do to give back?”

The Lumen Prize, awarded for the first time in 2008, provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements.

Lumen Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete their projects. Efforts include course work, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development, and creative productions and performances.

“I’ve mentored student research in economics for over a dozen years and this is the most unique project with which I have been involved,” said economics professor Steve DeLoach, Dorrow’s Lumen mentor. “Most research is relatively scientific, seeking to answer an interesting question about general human behavior. This is radically different.

What Drea is doing is applying rigorous economic methods to analyze a real world problem for the purpose of trying to develop a specific solution for these people.

Research, however, doesn’t consume Dorrow’s campus life. The Business Fellow is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi, and she has held leadership roles in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

The daughter of David and Heidi Dorrow of Harrisburg, Pa., also plays violin in the orchestra and served this past year as co-editor of Issues in Political Economy, an undergraduate research journal co-published by Elon University and the University of Mary Washington.

Looking ahead to her post-Elon career, Dorrow said she plans to eventually pursue a master’s degree in public health. In the interim, she’ll likely apply to be an analyst with the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington, D.C., where she can put into practice her economics background.

“It would be a fantastic job to do for a couple of years that would be good practice for grad school,” she said.

To learn more about the Lumen Prize and other undergraduate research opportunities at Elon University, click on the link to the right of this page under E-Cast.


Eric Townsend,
2/18/2010 4:27 PM