Name: Fatima S
Academic Area: Medical Anthropology
Sometimes a decision you make in life can have a tremendous impact on your future. For Fatima Sonday, choosing to participate in the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) Pre-College Summer Program inspired her to pursue a whole new direction when she heads off to college in 2018.
Fatima, who hopes to go to medical school one day, spent two weeks in the program during the summer of 2016, including a week-long session focused on Medical Anthropology. “I always had an interest in anthropology, but knew little about the subject. So when I saw that the program offered a week-long session in Medical Anthropology, I was instantly intrigued,” says Fatima.
During the week, she and her fellow students spent the mornings with Anne Kohler, PhD candidate and Graduate Assistant at UConn, learning how social, political, and economic factors influence health and well-being around the world. The week ended with a class project designed to help students absorb the concepts they had learned. The topic? HIV rates in New Orleans. Anne broke the students into teams, with each team analyzing different factors that may influence the prevalence of the disease throughout the city.
“The project was designed to help students understand the social causes of disease,” explains Anne. “For example, did Hurricane Katrina impact HIV rates and if so, how and why? I simply gave them the tools and guidance; they did all of the research and analysis. Since they’re all focusing on going to medical school, it’s important that they look at medicine holistically. And learning how cultural and social dimensions can have a dramatic impact on why people get sick is an important part of this.”
For Fatima, the course had a profound effect on her later on that summer, when she and her mom travelled to South Africa. The highlight, Fatima says, was a tour of the Township of Langa. “The Township has extremely high HIV rates, which our tour guide attributed to its poor living conditions. That made so much sense to me, especially after having taken the Medical Anthropology course,” says Fatima, who adds: “My perspective changed drastically because of the UConn summer program, which was fantastic. I kept thinking back to class and what we learned about Medical Anthropology and how factors impact the spread of a disease like HIV. I realized I wanted to research more about HIV and specifically how the living conditions in South Africa are tied to HIV rates.”
That’s precisely what Fatima did this past year. As part of an independent study project, she researched why certain parts of South Africa have higher HIV rates and how these issues can be prevented from happening. After her research, which included interviews with AIDS experts at the Yale School of Medicine, Fatima put a PowerPoint presentation together for her school.
So, we ask, was the program all work, no play? Absolutely not, Fatima says! “”I loved being on the UConn campus. It was the best experience of my life! The academic program was fantastic. But I also had the opportunity to make some really great friends, and the counselors were terrific. They planned lots of social activities. We went downtown for concerts and for the world’s best ice cream from the Dairy Bar. We had movie and game nights. And we had time to just hang out on the Storrs campus and in the dorms.”