Program preps students from underrepresented minority groups for international field research

Michelle Williams and MIRT fellows
Dean Designate Michelle Williams with this year's MIRT fellows

June 27, 2016 —Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently welcomed 10 new fellows into the Multidisciplinary International Research Training (MIRT) program. MIRT is a national program aimed at encouraging students who are members of underrepresented minority groups to pursue careers in biomedical and behavioral science research and it provides placement and funding for summer international field experiences.

The Harvard Chan School’s MIRT program hosted an orientation program for the new fellows in late spring before they headed off on their 8–12 week field placements. The participants learned about how to conduct epidemiologic research, as well as how to stay safe and healthy while traveling. Placements are with academic institutions throughout the world in countries including Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Republic of Georgia, Peru, and Australia.

Sequoya Simonam, a junior at North Carolina Central University majoring in biology, will work in New Zealand. Prior to entering college, Simonam served in the U.S. Army as an environmental health specialist. In the MIRT program, she hopes to explore links between environmental factors and heritable disease development affecting minorities.

Stephanie Martinez, a junior at Mercy College majoring in health sciences, plans to become a dentist and ultimately serve with an international non-profit helping underserved communities. She said, “Through the Harvard MIRT program I will be able to witness firsthand the health disparities at a global level and learn how to become part of a solution.”

The program’s Spring 2016 newsletter includes more information and personal statements from the fellows about what they hope to gain from their field experience.

MIRT is funded by The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) of the National Institutes of Health as part of the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MIRT/MHIRT) Program. At the Harvard Chan School it is headed by Dean Designate Michelle Williams, who started the program while she was at the University of Washington more than 20 years ago. Since its inception the program has trained more than 150 students from more than 30 universities.

— Amy Roeder

Photo: Craig LaPlante