Alumni of the Kenya program, often integrate their experiences abroad into their academic and professional lives long after they leave St. Lawrence. Beginning graduate degrees in Public Health and African History this fall, two recent alumni take us through their path from undergrad to graduate school through their experiences on the KSP. Hongera Emily and Katie and good luck this fall.
Emily Adams ‘16 (KSP Spring ’15)
Minor: African Studies
Currently: Masters of Public Health Student at Emory University
Hamjambo, Saints! I just graduated from St. Lawrence with a B.S. in Neuroscience and minor in African Studies, and I’m now living in Atlanta, GA attending Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health where I’m beginning my coursework to earn a Master’s degree in Global Public Health. While I’m now fairly confident in my career path, I certainly did not begin my time at SLU that way! Without the KSP, I don’t think that I would be here in Atlanta at this world-class institution.
My freshman year began with a bit of luck. I had always been interested in the African continent, kind of annoyed that the topic was glossed over in high school, and I was delighted to be placed into an African Studies FYP taught by Dr. Matt Carotenuto. Having spent my junior year of high school living in France as an exchange student, I knew that study abroad was important—and, because I’d already done Europe, I was planning on choosing a different continent. I was interested in the KSP right away, but Matt’s guidance as my advisor plus my interest in his class solidified my decision to go to Kenya.
I should note that, through my sophomore year, I was planning on following the pre-med track. Especially as an incoming college student interested in health sciences, I didn’t know that there were other options—it of seemed to me that, because I liked neuroscience, I had to be a doctor. The combo of organic chemistry and physics was very stressful for me, though, and by the end of the year I decided that I did not want to spend four-plus years at medical school hating my life. So, I stopped focusing on what I felt like I had to do and instead just did anything I found to be interesting.
I ended up on the KSP during the spring of my junior year, which was really the beginning of finding my passion. My semester in Kenya was a wonderful experience—the level of cultural understanding my peers and I gained was wildly beyond anything we could have learned as tourists, which is what I was looking for in a study abroad program. Living with Kenyan families and speaking with Kenyans (and Tanzanians!) from all different backgrounds is something that is not really possible for most people later on in life—truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Even better for me was the independent study. The IDS portion of the program allows students to have a month-long educational experience at the organization of their choosing, almost anywhere in East Africa, and is the opportunity to depart from the program curriculum in favor of a focus on individual students’ specific academic interests. Still interested in health, I did my IDS at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH). MTRH, in the city of Eldoret, is Kenya’s second-largest public hospital. MTRH also happens to be the home of Indiana University’s AMPATH program, which focuses on the holistic treatment of HIV/AIDS in an area of the country with relatively high rates of infection.
While at AMPATH, I was able to do a myriad of things that solidified my interest in public health. The most influential activity was shadowing an epidemiologist as she visited/surveyed Eldoret’s large population of street children in an attempt to better understand their health in general, but specifically rates of HIV infection in what is a horribly marginalized population. I also had the opportunity to accompany community outreach workers, pulled from the local population, as they visited AMPATH’s HIV-positive patients in their homes in order to ensure compliance with medicine regimens and offer support outside the hospital. It was during these activities that I realized that my true passion was community-based health work. I enjoyed forging relationships with patients in their homes and learning about their lives and perspectives.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it—my month at AMPATH was intense, incredibly emotionally draining, and I was frankly relieved when it was over. I saw some difficult things and learned some hard truths that are easy to ignore while halfway across the world in America. At the same time, my experiences in Eldoret awoke something within me that I knew I needed to pursue.
I returned to SLU that summer where I was granted a SLU Fellowship to study the historical roots of STD stigma in Kenya, which I argued was inherited from their British colonizers. The research, done under Dr. Carotenuto, turned into my senior African Studies thesis, which I then completed and presented at a conference in Ottawa later that fall.
When I started applying to grad schools, I had personal experiences that both showcased my experience and passion in the field of public health, and I was accepted to Emory—arguably the best global health program in the country. Emory is home to some of the world’s leading academics on HIV/AIDS, which I had identified as my main area of interest. The school of public health also happens to be located across the street from the Centers for Disease Control, offering opportunities for internships, work study, and amazing guest lectures. Just today my class heard from Sandra Thurman, who was appointed personally by President Clinton as the leader of the Office of National AIDS Policy during the 1990s. We were all hyperventilating in our seats as she flipped through photos of her with President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Nelson Mandela, reveling in hearing from such an HIV/AIDS superstar—who also happens to be a member of the Emory faculty!
Basically, I am studying my passion at a place filled with THE experts of the field. Would I be here studying global health without the KSP? I hope so. But, honestly, I really doubt it. The best thing about the KSP is that anyone—even a neuroscience major—can find a way to tailor it to individual interests and to turn it into something that will be beneficial throughout a lifetime. I am certainly proud to be a SLU graduate, and even more proud to be a KSP alum!
Katie Greene ’14 (KSP Spring 2013)
Major: African Studies and History Combined
Currently: Graduate Student in the MA/Ph.D. Program in African History at Michigan State University
While studying at Saint Lawrence, I first took Introduction to African history. Pre-existing notions about African culture were altered, and I became intrigued with African history. That paired with the incredible support of professors like Dr. Carotenuto and Dr. Schrems encouraged me to pursue history as a major, and my interest in encouraged me to apply to the Kenya program.
Thinking about how to connect this experience to my major, Dr. Carotenuto helped me develop an outline for a summer fellowship researching youth and generational politics in Kenya that would focus on processing my study abroad. While in Kenya, this research interest drove me to do my independent study with Student Campaign Against Drugs – an NGO run largely by young Kenyans and university students. This helped develop my interest in youth and generational relationships and led to a senior thesis regarding the role of youth in Kenya’s socio-political sphere and generational conflict rooted in colonialism.
During the summer before my senior year, I conducted preliminary research for my senior thesis, travelling to Syracuse University to utilize the Kenya National Archives microfilm collection. During my senior year, I was fortunate enough to receive funding from the History department’s Vilas research fund university to travel to the National Archives in London to engage in archival research of colonial documents.
These experiences stayed with me after graduation and drove me to apply for Ph.D. programs in African history. Fortunately I was accepted to one of the nation’s best programs at Michigan State University and have spent the summer of 2016 back in East Africa through Yale University’s Swahili program in Tanzania. Serving as a research assistant and through scholarship support from a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship at MSU, I plan to spend the next several years furthering my interest in Kenyan history and working towards my Ph.D.
While in graduate school, I plan to study Kiswahili and another relevant language so as to best conduct ethnographic field research and to analyze primary source materials. I hope to further my St. Lawrence work on contemporary Kenyan history and add to the historiography of generational conflict and the role of youth in East African societies.