Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Team Georgia Receives 2018 President’s Award for Global Learning

Tue, January 22, 2019
Team Georgia Receives 2018 President’s Award for Global Learning
Team Georgia: Parth Gupta, Lyndsey Wang, Anastasiya Byelousova, Michael Sanchez

An interdisciplinary team of UT students and their project addressing health issues in the Republic of Georgia was one of seven groups to be awarded the inaugural President’s Award for Global Learning (PAGL) for 2018. The group will travel to Georgia next summer to research their project, "Lowering Maternal Mortality Rates: What Texas Can Learn from the Republic of Georgia."

Led by CREEES affiliate faculty member Dr. Amy Liu (Government) and with assistance from CREEES graduate student Katherina Wierschke, the team members are: Anastasiya Byelousova (Biology/Plan II Honors; a native Russian speaker); Lyndsey Wang (Philosophy/Plan II Honors); Michael Sanchez (Plan II Honors; currently studying Russian language); and Parth Gupta (Computational Engineering/Plan II Honors).

The competitive President’s Award for Global Learning (PAGL) award, initiated by UT's International Board of Advisors, presents a $25,000 prize to each winning team of 2–4 undergraduate students from different majors, one faculty leader, and up to two faculty mentors. The teams work together on real-world issues that they choose from one of three themes: expanding existing research, social impact, or entrepreneurship; and from one of seven regions (Europe, Russia, and the Caucasus; Sub-Saharan Africa; Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia; East Asia; South/Southeast Asia and Oceania; South America; Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean). One team project is chosen to represent each region, with winning teams receiving all expenses for international travel to their chosen region to fulfill their project, along with full tuition coverage of 6 summer credit hours.

The Georgia team's winning project looks at the issue of maternal mortality rates (MMR), comparing Georgia's rates to those in Texas, which has the highest MMR in the US (and the US has the highest MMR among developed nations). Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia had one of the highest MMRs in Europe, but with new government policies initiated in 2015, they reduced their rate by 50% in just two years. Team member Parth Gupta (Computational Engineering/Plan II Honors) says that, "Despite the fact that Georgia and Texas have similar characteristics pertinent to healthcare, such as quality of nutrition or distance to trauma care, the two have had markedly different outcomes in reducing maternal mortality. Therefore, we thought it would be valuable to try and learn from Georgia's success and potentially bring back policy suggestions for Texas."

The UT team will go to Georgia next summer to interview health professionals and government officials about the policies that turned the tide on Georgia's MMRs. They will also conduct focus groups and interview expecting mothers to understand the challenges they face. At the end of the project, the team will present their findings to their Georgian partners and the women in their focus groups. Upon returning to Austin, the students will share the results of their fieldwork in an op-ed, publish it in each of their Plan II Honors theses on the subject, and present their findings in a TED Talk-like forum. Parth will also develop it further in his Archer fellowship (UT System's semester-long academic and internship program in Washington, DC). 

Team member Lyndsey Wang (Philosophy/Plan II Honors) says her interest was "immediately piqued" upon hearing about the PAGL award because of its focus on "experiential learning through interdisciplinary research." She feels that the project she and her team developed is important because their research in Georgia "introduces the possibility to play a part in the larger global effort to reduce maternal mortality." She is excited for the opportunity to learn from their international partners and bring what they learn back to Texas, as well as to "work and learn with my team members to lead a research project. The ability to not only study abroad, but research abroad seems very unique."

Parth adds, "The opportunity to learn from Georgia's success and potentially provide helpful solutions for Texas is our primary motivation. Though it may not often occupy the headlines, maternal mortality is a tragic and persistent problem. It disproportionately affects low-income households and women of color. Particularly in a developed, technologically advanced state like Texas, it is regrettable maternal mortality still affects so many mothers. We are eager to address this challenge through our research."

He also hopes they will gain an understanding of the region and the culture, saying, "Though Georgia and the Caucasus have long been of geopolitical importance, their rich history is often ignored or brushed over. I believe our team understands the value of learning from communities, cultures, and countries other than our own, and will go into this project with the humility needed to facilitate this learning."

Prof. Liu says of the experience so far, "It's been a privilege getting to know these four students, seeing what strengths each one brings to the project. It's not an everyday opportunity to work so closely with people from different colleges. I'm excited to go with them to Georgia this summer and to be able to share in the learning experience—whether it's about their maternal health care, their culture, or their language."

 

Read more about the President’s Award for Global Learning:

 

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