Giving students the ability to pursue their academic passions is at the core of Newcomb-Tulane College’s mission. This summer, Sarah Matthews, NTC ’19, took advantage of an NTC Dean’s grant and the services of the Center for Engaged Learning & Teaching to work on critical public health research in Argentina. As a public health major and Spanish minor, Sarah has serious goals to make an impact internationally. Once on track to go to medical school, Sarah changed course after working in Dawn Wesson’s lab her sophomore year. Wesson’s work in vector-borne tropical diseases, epidemiology and public health ignited a passion and set a new path forward for Sarah.
While in Argentina, Sarah worked on three research projects with significant objectives. One was a clinical trial that focuses on prevention of transmission of Chagas disease. There she drafted temperature reports to monitor the labs to ensure the samples were preserved properly — a critical component of this type of work. She also participated in two systematic reviews — one to improve the diagnostic method of Zika and the other in the morbidity of congenital Chagas disease. A systematic review summarizes the results of a trial and provides evidence on the effectiveness of the intervention.
Sarah worked in the Institute for Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy in Buenos Aires, alongside some of the top researchers in the field. She notes these connections as the most rewarding part of the experience, “Everyone was so open and welcoming, they worked with me to make sure I was comfortable in the office and getting the most out of the experience.” The proximity to the epicenter was another highlight. Being in the country where these diseases are prevalent puts researchers where people are actually affected by the disease being studied. She expressed that it “helps to connect the dots” and that although these connections exist at Tulane “it’s important to work with people in person, you get a lot more out of it.”
Not all students have a clear path after graduation but Sarah has a definite vision. Once she completes her bachelor’s degree in December she will be going right to graduate school, to earn her Master of Public Health from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane. She credits her experience for giving her some of this clarity. “I was able to learn an amazing amount while making real contributions” Sarah concludes, reflecting back on a satisfying experience. “Without this experience I wouldn’t have as clear of an idea of what I want to do. It will serve me for years in the future.”