Helping Students to Help Others
By Albert Raboteau
On a two-week class trip to Mali last year, biological sciences major Christine George was struck by the lack of local research on the extent of mosquito-borne diseases, even though dengue and yellow fever are a significant problem in the region.
She decided to do something about the situation.
George, a senior who plans to become doctor and work in public health in the developing world, organized a project that brought her back to Mali in July.
Her goal was to provide Malian public health officials with data and methods that would help them to keep better track of mosquito-borne viruses.
Under the supervision of Zach Adelman, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology, and working alongside Michael Wiley, a Virginia Tech graduate student in entomology, George collected thousands of mosquitoes to test for infection. Malian authorities provided samples of human blood from residents of the areas that were being studied. Those samples were also tested.
As the project progresses, analysis of all its data will indicate where mosquito control, virus tracking and medical assistance is most necessary. George is a Manassas, Va., native. Wiley is from Ambler, Penn.
Along with providing important public health information, the project helped establish a working relationship between Virginia Tech scientists and health officials from Mali. An official from Mali's Malaria Research and Training Center recently visited several labs at Virginia Tech.
"We're really excited about building these collaborations between the Malaria Research Training Center and Virginia Tech," said Adelman, who is involved in the university's Vector-Borne Disease Research Group.
Adelman was able to provide $10,000 in program funds for George's project, but additional money from donors was essential to making the research possible. George is an honors student, and scholarship money from the University Honors program, as well as the College of Science, was a major factor in her ability to return to Mali.
George also received money from a Wilkins/Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellowship, one of several funds for undergraduate research at Virginia Tech that have been created by donors. And, after George presented her idea for the project at a meeting of the College of Science Dean's Roundtable, which is made up of alumni, roundtable members William Presley (geological sciences '57) and Patricia Caldwell (mathematics '71) created a new research in Mali fund.
"Without their support, this would not have happened; it's that simple," George said of the various supporters of her project, which received $15,000 from private donations in all.
The opportunity for ambitious undergraduates like Christine George to do important research is often dependent on private giving. One of the major priorities of the $1 billion Campaign for Virginia Tech: Invent the Future, is raising money to improve the undergraduate experience by creating new scholarships or research funds.