Global Health Internship Engages Local High School Students

By Rachel Cox

High school students from San Francisco got a taste of global health this summer through a new six-week internship launched by the Institute for Global Health Sciences (IGHS). The Summer Researchers in Global Health program introduces rising high school seniors to the broad field of global health by matching them with pairs of mentors to work on active research projects, offering a seminar in global health foundations, and connecting them with a wide range of global health professionals.

Joni Lee, Lick-Wilmerding High School, participates in UCSF Institute for Global Health Sciences summer internship program
Joni Lee participates in a Lunch & Learn.

For this inaugural year of the internship, IGHS selected seven exceptional students who applied after being nominated by teachers at their schools. Some interns had taken global health-related classes in school or had encountered global health issues while traveling, but for others it was a new field.

“Prior to this experience at IGHS, I knew very little about global health and nothing about the issues surrounding maternal care,” said Abby Romo, who interned with the Maternal Newborn Child Health Cooperative. “Throughout my time here, I have had the opportunity to talk to various maternal health experts and learn from them the largest barriers and best solutions to the current issues plaguing women’s medical treatment.”

Guided by her mentors, Romo’s work included conducting a literature search on respectful maternal healthcare and preterm birth. Other interns’ work included:

  • Writing country-specific policy briefs on tuberculosis priorities
  • Researching advocacy around climate change and health in India
  • Writing surveys to improve malaria intervention strategies in Indonesia
  • Preparing for an event that will urge California to adopt universal health care

Sally Stephens, a senior data manager and co-mentor with Shaan Chaturvedi, senior program manager with IGHS’s Global Strategic Information group, said that her small team really benefited from having extra hands to help meet some of their deadlines this summer. Their intern, Jahan Jazayeri from St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, helped prepare datasets and created graphs and charts for a report about disease outcomes in countries where The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has provided funding.

Stephens said her team tailored the project for a high school student “so that it was both helpful to us and provided him skills that will be useful down the road.” She noted, “I wish there had been something like this when I was in high school.”

In addition to their independent project work, the interns participated one day a week in an introductory global health seminar. Pal Shah, a 2017 alumna of the IGHS master’s program and co-coordinator of the program, developed and taught the six-week curriculum.

She and fellow coordinator Karen Wen, a program assistant in IGHS’s Global Health Group, organized several “Lunch & Learn” sessions at which the interns engaged in conversations with faculty and staff, including epidemiologists, clinicians, people working in policy and advocacy and IGHS leaders.

Students in the IGHS Summer Research in Global Health program with Dr. Haile Debas
IGHS founder Haile Debas (left) talks with interns Kian
Kafaie, Jahan Jazayeri, Rianna Skomorovsky and Colin
Cooper.

Several of the interns said their mentor meetings and lunch sessions were the highlight of the program. “I liked that I was exposed to so many different aspects of global health,” said Rianna Skomorovsky, a student at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School. “However, my favorite part about being here was meeting all of the incredible people that work at UCSF, and getting to hear about their own journey into the world of global health.”

Connecting high school students with UCSF’s people and programs expands the educational mission of IGHS. “While our work is inherently global in nature and we spend much of our time focusing on what’s going on abroad, the internship program gives us an opportunity to focus on the local community, exciting these students about global health,” said Jeremy Alberga, co-director of the program and chief operating officer of IGHS’s Global Health Group.

The internship concluded with a project showcase, during which the interns presented their research findings and program experiences to an audience of UCSF faculty and staff, as well as their family members and high school faculty. The internship experience does not end after six weeks, however. During the academic year, IGHS’s faculty and staff will be available to present on global health topics at the interns’ schools, sharing their expertise with an even larger audience.

Alberga said that the Summer Researchers in Global Health program hopes to expand its reach and involve students from more schools in the wider Bay Area. If the students who participated in this year’s program are any indication, he said, “I have no doubt that, in the near future, some of them will lead us in solving some of the many intractable problems we deal with every day.”

2018 Summer Researchers in Global Health

  • Colin Cooper, San Francisco University High School
  • Jahan Jazayeri, St. Ignatius College Prep
  • Kian Kafaie, Urban School of San Francisco
  • Joni Lee, Lick-Wilmerding High School
  • Sabrina Lem, Lowell High School
  • Abigail Romo, The Thacher School
  • Rianna Skomorovsky, Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School