Making a Difference with Mabie

Not sure what to do this summer? For any undergraduate student interested in making a difference, opportunities abound.

March is here, which means the deadline to apply for the John and Martha Mabie Public Health Fellowship is fast approaching. The grant offers undergraduate students a chance to research global health issues, both in America and abroad. Past research topics have ranged from studying public health awareness through academic arts in Chicago to the way Algerian women view hypertension to LGBTQ health disparities in hospice care in Nepal.

This past summer, two Mabie fellows used the grant to study of the most important resources for health around the world: access to clean water. Weinberg senior Julia Yeam and School of Education and Social Policy senior Tracy Guo assisted with research efforts to design a scale that will help researchers analyze water insecurity.

(Photo courtesy of Julia Yeam)

“As a research group we are working on developing a scale, a cross-cultural scale, that will measure water insecurity at the household level— something that doesn’t exist at the moment.” says Julia Yeam, a biological sciences and global health major.

The Mabie grant gave Yeam a chance to extend her work with her research group, keeping her in Evanston during the summer break to analyze data.

“It wasn’t just me individually doing this project, [but] I played a role in it and there were parts that were distinctly mine,” Yeam says of her work over the summer. “I was doing a combination of data cleaning, looking at some of our preliminary data and doing analysis.”

She performed all these tasks in Evanston, but her data set came from 11 different countries, including Ghana, Uganda, Tajikistan, Ethiopia, and Colombia. The number has only grown since then.

“We partnered with a lot of other researchers – both in the US and outside – and we asked them if they were interested in our project,” Yeam says. “If they were, then [we asked if they] would like to partner with us and conduct our survey at their research site. Some researchers have multiple research sites in different countries.”

Ultimately, the research collaboration wants to design a short survey with a set of seven to eight questions that can quantify a household’s water insecurity, regardless of where they live.

“We started off with a list of 32 questions…we condensed it to 27 or 28,” Yeam says. “We’re seeing, based on different models and statistics and regressions, how well do these questions actually capture water insecurity experiences. By measuring the strength of each of these questions we will be able to see which of the questions we ultimately want to keep in this final survey.”

The project isn’t done yet— the number of sites continues to grow, adding more data for the research group to consider. However, Yeam is far from disappointed with her Mabie experience. She says her favorite part of the summer of research was preparing and attending a conference held in Northwestern to discuss progress on the study. Many of the international partners and experts in water insecurity came, which made the atmosphere exciting for Yeam.

(Photo courtesy of Julia Yeam)

“I was the only undergraduate on this project over the summer, so being a part of this conference was very intimidating because there were all of these big names that I had been reading about— people who are absolutely giants in the world of food and water insecurity already,” Yeam says. “I was thinking, ‘who am I to present data to you, this is insane!’”

However, Yeam says she not only presented the descriptives she had generated during the summer, she also joined in the conversations the attendees had about water insecurity. While the summer gave her a chance to learn some important research skills, the most important lesson she learned came from the conference: the necessity of teamwork.

(Photo courtesy of Julia Yeam)

“In terms of actually conducting research work, I learned a lot about how to do quantitative data analysis which was really cool, and I think a useful skill,” Yeam says. “On a more grander level, I really got to see how important collaboration is when trying to make something as significant as a scale that doesn’t exist yet, especially one that’s cross cultural and can be applied to any cultural context and any socio-economic context as well.”

Yeam says she feels grateful to have an eye-opening experience through her Mabie grant and recommends that any global health-minded undergraduate student to think about the fellowship and others like it.

Any students interested in applying for the John and Martha Mabie Public Health Fellowship can apply at this link and contact Micki Burton at with questions. The deadline for applications is March 19th.

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