Notes from the field

Lasting impressions: Hopkins NSF-IGERT onsite research in developing countries

09/18/2014

Veritas vos liberabit, “the truth shall set you free,” is a motto that Johns Hopkins proudly embodies. Founded as America’s first research university, JHU certainly lives up to this tenet with ten academic divisions making strides in their respective fields year after year—truly demonstrating the liberating power that’s found in learning. But as a student at JHU, it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle and lose sight of the extraordinary talent and accomplishments that take place here every day. This past week, however, I was fortunate enough to meet the students of JHU’s prestigious Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, also known as IGERT, and found yet another remarkable piece of Hopkins.

IGERT is a fellowship sponsored by the National Science Foundation that trains PhD candidates through interdisciplinary programs. At Johns Hopkins, the IGERT fellowship concentrates in Water, Climate, and Health (WCH) and provides its students with a $30,000 stipend that fully covers tuition, fees, and two years of health insurance. Its students hail from various backgrounds, ranging from earth and planetary sciences to international health, and are just as modest as they are brilliant.  

This summer, the IGERT fellows split into two groups and ventured off to Ethiopia and Peru for a two and three week onsite study, respectively, of climate change and water research. With the research site located in the mountains, Ethiopia was specially selected for both its cool climate and its vulnerability to climate change, which is a concern for the large local agrarian society. There, the IGERT students collaborated with students from the Addis Ababa and Debre Markos Universities in studying, identifying, and classifying soil samples. Weather stations, remote sensors, and satellites were also used to measure and study the climate. Through their studies, the NSF-IGERT fellows were able to identify evidence of erosion, which is an issue that may need to be addressed in the future.

"...it was clear that the JHU NSF-IGERT students each had something in common: their passion and excitement for learning."

Meanwhile in Iquitos, Peru, the NSF-IGERT fellows focused more on evaluating water quality and studying coliforms from dry compost latrines. Due to its turbid water and lack of sufficient water treatment, Peru maintains high levels of diarrhea and malnutrition. But by collaborating with local students, the fellows were able to study this issue and were eventually able to demonstrate to local officials how to properly test the water for contamination. The IGERT students also made an interesting discovery that the longer dry compost latrines were exposed to open air, the higher the chances of reducing their overall level of contamination. 

Despite traveling to two separate parts of the world, it was clear that the JHU NSF-IGERT students each had something in common: their passion and excitement for learning. As a student, I found their dedication to learning to be contagious; and after attending the IGERT colloquium, I felt a renewed sense of motivation. There really is no more refreshing feeling than the freedom found in learning: a gift that Hopkins has granted its students for generations.  

Keywords:

Students, fellowships, NSF-IGERT, Ethiopia, Peru, water, soil, climate

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