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Jason Blackard

Jason Blackard

Twelve University of Cincinnati students and three faculty spent the semester preparing for a 12-day study tour over spring break in Ghana that focused on HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other public health concerns in the country.

By: Maria Roos '13

Associate professor Jason Blackard, director of the Pathobiology and Molecular Medicine Graduate Program at UC since 2011, developed study abroad programs to expose students to the international research aspect of public health issues.

“I decided to develop two study abroad experiences for UC undergraduates that focused on the public health and research aspects of HIV/AIDS – a major focus within my research lab – as well as malaria and tuberculosis,” Jason says. “Through a Faculty Development Award, I was able to travel to South Africa in September/October 2011 to work on logistics for the course, meet with collaborators and establish a firm itinerary, as well as do a bit of sightseeing.”

The trip included a visit to the University of Ghana, School of Public Health, the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, UNAIDS, the Noguchi Memorial Research Institute and the Peace Corps, as well as visiting a number of historical and cultural sites.

Before departure, students prepared for their trip through exercises that explored their expectations and fears while abroad. Ghanaians living in Cincinnati spoke about their culture and highlighted potential differences between the US and Ghana, Blackard says. UC International provided a pre-departure orientation covering related issues to personal safety and health.

“The experience in Ghana was absolutely amazing,” says Marguerite Schneider, a Medical Scientist Training Program and graduate student in Neuroscience. “Jason did a wonderful job coordinating the events. We were able to interact with people at all levels of the public health structure: senior staff at UNAIDS and the Ghana AIDS Commission, physicians actively treating patients and peer educators working with high-risk populations one-on-one.”

For Charles Ebersbacher, a Biomedical Engineering Pre-med student, the experience was educational and surprising. “Interacting with high-risk groups and seeing the health care facilities was like a look back in time. Homosexuality is illegal, and the military will extort money from them. I was surprised to hear that some health care workers still are scared to treat people with HIV, and there is still a significant problem with stigma towards HIV in Ghana,” Ebersbacher says.

After the students returned from Ghana, the class discussed what they had learned during the trip. Many students received travel awards from UC International, and as part of those awards, students must share their experience abroad with the UC community through classroom presentations, blogs or discussion with student organizations.

Blackard thinks that the research aspects of public health could sometimes be best illustrated abroad where resources are limited. “The trip was amazing and an excellent learning experience for all,” Blackard says. “I am appreciating just how much real-world experience students can gain in a relatively short trip out of the country.”