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HESE Fieldwork
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Leah Bader

Paterno Fellow
Major: Anthropology
Minor: Global Health
Hometown: Easton

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I had previously traveled with the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship in Africa (HESE) program last summer and enjoyed it so much that I decided to continue working with the HESE teams and doing research with them, despite completing the coursework for the program. I have now been part of the HESE team for about two years. Originally, I found out about HESE through older friends who were participating in the program when I was an underclassman. The research they were describing sounded very relevant to what I was interested in and actually made real impact, so I was eager to join.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

I traveled to Sierra Leone for 20 days in order to further the HESE Affordable Greenhouse Venture. The HESE program has partnered with the non-profit organization World Hope International to create a business called GRO Greenhouses, which sells affordable greenhouses to farming cooperatives and agri-businesses in Sierra Leone and Mozambique. This business operates on a half a million dollar grant from USAID. While I was in Sierra Leone, I was working with the World Hope staff on the ground that is currently assigned to the GRO Greenhouse project in order to standardize business operations. We created a quality control checklist to ensure the standard of the construction of our greenhouses. We also created a problem solving protocol that should be followed whenever one of our greenhouses faces an agronomic or organizational problem. Several research projects were also ongoing that included interviewing our greenhouse farmers, as well as other local farmers about gender equity, water savings, and nutrition. Part of our team also explored the viability of started a seedling business (growing seeds to the seedling stage in the greenhouse and selling seedlings to local farmers) and started a data collection system to document every aspect of the business.

How did this experience impact you academically?

The HESE program teaches students invaluable skills that just can not be taught inside a classroom. The ability to be flexible during a project, working with what you have, and pivoting from idea to idea until a successful solution is found are all skills that are integral to the HESE program. Some days we were faced with rolling blackouts, left without lights or internet or air conditioning. How do you run a sustainable business venture when 4 days out of week you haven't had access to wifi? These are situations that are often thrown at you during HESE fieldwork and the process of being creative and finding a solution to them is what helps HESE students grow both academically and as young professionals.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

After graduation I hope to attend graduate school to obtain either a Master's in Public Health or a PhD in medical anthropology. Either way I know that I would like to work in international health -- more specifically, ensuring that medical care and practices are culturally appropriate in certain situations, particularly during outbreak control when international health teams swoop in and rapidly challenge current healthcare practices. While this might not be directly related to affordable greenhouses, the HESE program allows students to develop crucial professional skills suited for international settings. This program has helped me reaffirm that international work is the right choice for me, particularly in low-resource settings. Seeing real impact come from an academic program motivates me to continue striving for the career I want.

Seeing real impact come from an academic program motivates me to continue striving for the career I want.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

I think this is a great experience for Liberal Arts students. Many students from other majors think they can not participate in the HESE program because it's in the College of Engineering and Engineering is in it's name, but in reality, all majors are welcome. It's an interdisciplinary team where each individual brings their own unique perspective and set of skills to the table. Liberal Arts students are needed just like technical math and science majors are. Most of research surrounds human behaviors and cultures and I believe Liberal Arts students could find their own niche in the HESE program while gaining insight into other majors.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

While Paterno Fellows had no direct impact on my participation in this experience, I feel that the program has pushed me to find the best opportunities for me to further myself as a student and professional. HESE provides the unique opportunity of being an academic program, but also getting the chance to work outside of the classroom in a real low-resource setting. Paterno Fellows has encouraged me to find opportunities like HESE on campus that match my intended career goals while helping develop as a person while also having fun. Paterno Fellows provides Liberal Arts students with the chance to explore other majors and find programs outside of the College of the Liberal Arts to help expand their horizons. 

For more information on global experiences for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.

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