Public health performance: Lumen Scholar uses creative arts to help students in Ghana learn about malaria 

Stephanie Ntim ‘19 is among the recipients of the Lumen Prize, which provides selected students with a scholarship and celebrates their academic and creative accomplishments.

Stephanie Ntim ’19 poses with her research mentor, Assistant Professor of Public Health Studies Katherine Johnson. 

Using the creative arts to teach students about devastating illnesses might seem like an unlikely combination. But during the summer, Lumen Scholar recipient and Honors Fellow Stephanie Ntim ‘19 took this innovative approach to Ghanaian students to assist them in learning about malaria, a major disease affecting the country.

During multiple trips to a junior high school in Ghana, Ntim has explored how to use dance, drama and music to help students learn how to prevent the spread of malaria. It’s an approach that allows them to take ownership of their learning while harnessing their creative talents and addressing a public health need.

“I’m hoping that the students will take something from it and hopefully adopt some of the behaviors that were demonstrated,” said Ntim ’19, a public health studies major.

Ntim’s research for her honors thesis was made possible through the Lumen Prize, a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate her academic endeavors. A new cohort of Lumen Scholars is selected in the spring of each year, with the Lumen Prize now carrying a $20,000 scholarship.

Ntim’s connection to Ghana is strong, given that her parents and extended family are originally from the country. She knew she wanted to conduct her research there, but it was just a matter of finding the right topic.

Her interest in public health pre-dates her arrival at Elon. Health is one factor that determines the success of a population, Ntim explains, and she has been interested in exploring that aspect. She has also been inspired to pursue public health because of her father’s work in health care. “I’ve always admired what he does, and I think it’s a very noble cause to try and help people become healthier, so I’m motivated to join that arena as well,” Ntim says.

Her Lumen Prize research has provided a pathway to combine these two important aspects of her life. Ntim has traveled to Ghana to explore how the performing arts can act as a practical method to enhance how students learn about malaria. During the course of her research Ntim traveled to Ghana twice, in January and May of this year, working with students in a junior high school in Pepease, a town in the Eastern region of Ghana where she has family.

Successful malaria prevention takes many forms in countries plagued by malaria, and Ntim felt that it was crucial to include communities in their own learning about the disease. “It’s very important that communities get to take ownership of their own health,” she says.

Health professionals came to the school where Ntim was working to show students malaria prevention methods. Using different performing arts like dance, drama and music students demonstrated their knowledge of malaria and prevention methods for the disease. Student learning was assessed through survey distribution and Ntim conducted focus groups with participants before and after the intervention. The school made an event out of it and students put on dances and skits to show aspects like taking someone to a clinic or using a mosquito net. One student even wrote a rap about malaria prevention which was a big hit, Ntim says.

“It was great because the students seemed to like putting on performances,” Ntim says. “They made it an official event, so it started with traditional Ghanaian dances and with opening words from the headmistress, and then ended with a closing prayer. So, the school took a lot of ownership over how the intervention was carried out.”

Ten students were interviewed in the post-intervention focus group and they all enjoyed using the creative arts to show their knowledge of malaria. “A lot of students said they enjoyed working with their peers and I think there’s a lot of potential for this project in that area,” Ntim says.

Being a Lumen scholar and Honors Fellow has provided Ntim with many opportunities for sharpening skills such as writing and organization as well as getting the chance to travel.

“This project has given me a lot, how to be more independent just by traveling to a new country and how to communicate with people who differ from me in significant ways and to try and bridge those gaps, which are all important skills I hope will translate in whatever setting I work in or move to next,” Ntim says.

Ntim has worked closely with Assistant Professor of Public Health Katherine Johnson, who was her advisor as a public health studies major and became her Lumen mentor. Ntim approached Johnson to be her Lumen mentor during her sophomore year after she had shown interest in Ntim’s potential research.

Johnson worked with Ntim through every phase of her project and saw Ntim grow in her confidence and in becoming more comfortable with research methodologies. “Stephanie has exceptional capacity, which has been demonstrated repeatedly over the course of our work together, two years and counting,” Johnson says

Johnson helped Ntim with difficulties and questions that arose over time but because her project was conducted overseas, Ntim went through the challenge of gaining permission and access to implement her research by herself. “She had extra variables such as liaising with a variety of Ghana-based collaborators, gaining ethical approval from the Ghana Health Service and travel related logistics,” Johnson says.

Before getting started, Ntim went through a lengthy process to obtain permission from the Ghana Health Service to go through with her research. “There are guidelines and laws that must be followed by anybody who wants to do research in Ghana and learning about that process and making myself open to that process was difficult because a lot of the times I was doing it by myself, so it required a lot of independence, discipline and patience,” Ntim says.

Crediting the Lumen Prize with giving her resources for her research, Ntim says that it gave her the possibility to explore a long-held passion. “A lot of what I did would not have been possible without the financial support and the mentorship built into the Lumen scholarship,” she says.

At Elon Ntim holds leadership positions in Elon News Network and in the Elon African Society. She has also been involved in Elon Global Medical Brigades and was a summer mentor for Elon Academy as well as having studied abroad in Sweden. In the future she hopes to either attend medical school or to pursue a graduate degree in public health.