Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) program is a carefully structured activity that takes a group of selected students to research sites abroad to participate in on-going research programs in natural products and environmental health. Three sites have been established for this program on the continent of Africa: the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Egerton University in Njoro, Kenya, and University of Benin in Benin City, Nigeria.
Hampton University and Tanzanian Students at Chemistry Department, University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM)
The students engage in scientific research in an environment that promotes different ways of thinking, expands the concept of teamwork, provides exposure to new and unique areas of research, and promotes global cooperation in science.
The participants receive an intensive summer research experience working with materials and in an environment quite different from what they are used to in the United States. New research skills are developed and linkages are established that will no doubt lead to future collaborations in scientific research.
The skills, knowledge, and experience gained will serve as an important stimulus for future work in these and related biomedical science areas. Indeed, it is hoped that the experience will provide a platform for the discovery of new career paths. To date, over 120 students and faculty have participated in this program.
The activity begins with an early search for interested students in the fall term when applications are disseminated and announcements are made. The selection process is carried out in early spring. Applicants are carefully screened to make sure that they meet the minimum requirements established by NIH and Hampton University. Other selection criteria put into consideration personal interests, motivation, future career goals, and willingness to spend practically all summer in Africa. The selected students and faculty attend a two-day pre-departure orientation workshop at Hampton University. This workshop is crucial especially for students who have never traveled abroad before. Workshop sessions discuss the objectives of the program, cultural issues, language, food, health needs and requirements. A few alumni of the program are invited to the workshop to share their experiences.
Upon arrival at the research sites abroad, the participants engage in a two-day on-site orientation to introduce them to local language, culture, educational, political, and historical issues. The participants are then assigned to research teams, often consisting of two-to-three local graduate students and faculty members. Field trips are taken as needed to collect research materials as well as conduct pertinent case studies.
The students’ research in natural products typically involves a plant part: root, stem bark, or seeds, which they investigate through an established protocol to isolate chemical compounds. Students learn a variety of techniques and protocols commonly used in natural products laboratory work, including the processing of natural product materials for experimentation, separation of crude materials, isolation of compounds from crude materials, chromatographic separations, spectroscopic characterization of isolated compounds, and basic tests for bioactivity using established bioactivity testing methods. Field trips allow students to learn plant taxonomy and how to select, and collect specimens for laboratory experimentation.
MHIRT and University of Dar es Salaam Students and Faculty, Chemistry Dept.University of Dar es Salaam
Environmental health projects are centered on assessment and protection of source water. The participants engage in research to provide a delineation of water sources, identifying their locations and characteristics, as well as identifying all pertinent factors that may bear on the quantity and quality of the water. Each delineated source is sampled and analyzed for chemical and microbiological content, including nutrients, heavy metals, pesticides, phosphates, fluoride, and fecal coliform. Water related epidemiological studies are also conducted, including the impacts of pesticides and pesticide use practices.
The experience abroad culminates in a presentation that each participant makes before a local audience. All participants are expected to prepare a final research report, which is submitted to the Project Director at Hampton.
The IRT program has been a profound opportunity for the participants to be exposed to unique scientific experiences, learn to transcend cultural and disciplinary insularities, learn how to solve real and complicated scientific problems, learn about problems of the developing world, and get a different outlook on life.
During the first five years, only Hampton University students were recruited. Since then, program participants have been recruited from over twenty-five universities across the nation.
The program is open to sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students in science and engineering fields, as well as medical and related fields. All program expenses are paid for by a grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health