Meet Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman!
Your major(s) and minor(s): Mathematics and Economics
Your expected year of graduation: 2019
List any Scholars/Honors programs you are a part of: Honors College, Meyerhoff Scholars Program, MARC U*STAR Scholars Program
Title of your research project: The Impact of Early Childhood Malaria on Educational Attainment in Ghana
Describe your project: I am using two datasets from Ghana household survey data from 2012/2013 and malaria incidence rate data from 2000, to determine whether early childhood malaria increases the likelihood of a child dropping out of school or being held back a grade.
Who is your mentor(s) for your project? I am conducting research under the guidance of Dr. Tim Gindling, a UMBC professor in the Department of Economics, and Dr. Lauren Cohee, a researcher and infectious disease pediatrician at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine Institute for Global Health (IGH). I am also collaborating with the Ghana Health Service. After speaking with Dr. Gindling about his research and involvement with the World Bank, I realized that he possessed the expertise and experience to provide sound mentorship on my project. I have worked on Dr. Cohee’s project for nearly two years. Her study, which focuses on low-density malaria infections among school-age children in southern Malawi, inspired me to look into the long-term educational implications of the disease. I knew that she would help Dr. Gindling and I better understand the epidemiological data as well as hone in the public health focus of my research. Also, I really enjoy my lab and our team, they’re pretty awesome.
How did you become interested in this project? I have always wanted to understand barriers to education for children and youth in Ghana, my homeland. My interest in public health, and eventually, infectious disease, emerged after working at the Institute for Global Health and learning about the hundreds of millions of children impacted by malaria worldwide. As I worked with Dr. Cohee on her project, I began asking questions about the long-term impact of our work and the role of disease in determining the educational outcomes of children. I also saw that there remains a significant gap in the literature and conversation surrounding malaria and school-age children. Typically, when we talk about malaria, we focus exclusively on children under the age of five. Research about how school performance and educational attainment are affected by malaria is sparse. I hope that my work begins to scratch the surface in understanding the long run costs of malaria among young children.
What has been the hardest part about your research/what was the most unexpected thing about being a researcher? The hardest part about my research has been data collection. Obtaining data from a sub-Saharan African country is very difficult. I had to call in some favors to get the contact information for the Ghana Health Service and jump through a couple more hoops to get the data that I needed. Moving forward, my mentors and I anticipate that controlling for many different confounding factors will be the hardest part about my research. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to the challenge. In general, the unpredictability and timing of research is what can make the process a bit stressful. I think many people come into research with a plan of how things are supposed to go, but then reality hits. It’s best to patient with the process and yourself.
What has been the most rewarding part? I love talking to laymen about the work that I am doing. The most satisfying feeling is to see the light bulb go off in someone’s head or entertain questions that I had not previously thought about. For this project, I am really excited to explore how this research informs the decision-making of educators and health workers in Ghana.
How will you disseminate your research? My aim is to share my research with the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and the Ghanaian community at large. I also plan to present at URCAD next year and submit my work to a number of undergraduate and public health journals.
What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research? I want to encourage students to be bold and reach out to people who are conducting research that interests them. Oftentimes, students will assume that they cannot join a lab or with a professor because they don’t have the highest grades or the most experience. While there is definitely a learning curve, I think that it is important to identify mentors who will tap into your potential; this means putting yourself out there, calling a PI (Primary Investigator), and/or attending conferences on and off campus. UMBC is unique because information about undergraduate research can be obtained through a variety of different programs and campus-wide initiatives made available to students. This kind of a luxury is scarcely available to students who attend larger institutions. Many of these programs (e.g. Meyerhoff Friend Program, McNair Scholars Program, MARC U*STAR Scholars Program) offer resources and advice for those who are new to research. Also, if a student is not interested in any of the research on campus, I recommend off-campus research. I know some people who work remotely with their PI.
What are your career goals? Currently, I would like to obtain a Ph.D in Economics. I hope to work at the intersection of academia and policy and research the barriers to human capital accumulation in sub-Saharan Africa and Black America.
Photo: Anna presenting her researcher at URCAD 2018
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