The aim of this program is to provide students a mentored experience in the practice of community-based field research for public health. While many students have the chance to take research methods courses on Grounds, there are often limited opportunities for in-depth, practical experience with the real craft of research. This program introduces students to public health research practice by giving them a hands-on opportunity to carry out small mentored research projects in a community setting in Cape Town.
Students will work in groups with other students and will be supported daily by both teaching staff as well as local field guides/translators. Participation in the program will help students develop valuable skills in study design, data collection and analysis, and reflection on the ethical challenges of research. While research activities will be carried out primarily in English, the program will also provide students with a rapid but intensive introduction to isiXhosa, one of the local African languages in Cape Town.
The research projects that students will be engaged in for this program will be informed by the ongoing research initiatives of the program instructor, Christopher J. Colvin, a medical anthropologist and epidemiologist working at the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town (see bio below). The focus will be on the use of qualitative health social science methods, though smaller-scale quantitative methods may be incorporated. While the broad research topics for these group projects will be set out from the beginning, students will have ample opportunity for designing the scope and focus of the project, the particular methods to be used, and the format for presenting findings.
The first few days of the program will be devoted to a ‘methods bootcamp’ that will provide students with intensive training in core qualitative data collection methods in a short course format. These skills will then be put to use in the remaining weeks of the program in the community-based research projects.
Cape Town will make an excellent setting for your study of public health research because it so clearly demonstrates in one location the many frictions between the local and the global, between the North and the South, between some of the richest and some of the poorest. This is the city, after all, that performed the first heart transplant forty years ago and continues to innovate in high technology biomedicine but also suffers from severe malnutrition and one of the worst HIV epidemics in the world.
Cape Town is not only the story of the struggle between rich and poor, though. The city also has a fascinating and complex array of cultures, ethnicities, languages, arts and architecture, from Dutch colonial to "shack chic", from the Malay Quarter to the cricket stadium, and from the Holistic Lifestyle Fair to the charismatic Brazilian megachurch.
The program is composed of two closely related courses. The first course, Ethical and Methodological Issues in Public Health Research (PHS 5820, 3 credits), will be a reading and discussion-based seminar where students will both a) review some of the basic methodological and ethical issues in field research and b) reflect on how they are engaging with these ethical and methodological challenges in their own research experiences. The second course, Practicum in Public Health Research (PHS 5821, 3 credits), gives students practice in conducting their own research projects by placing them into existing projects and mentoring them as they participate in the collection and analysis of data.
Christopher J. Colvin | firstname.lastname@example.org
A cultural anthropologist living and working in Cape Town, South Africa and Charlottesville, Virginia, Professor Colvin has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Virginia and a Masters in Public Health from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in epidemiology. For more than 13 years, Chris has conducted extensive inter-disciplinary research in the fields of medical anthropology and public health in South Africa.His research areas of interest include HIV/AIDS, anti-retroviral treatment, and masculinity; psychological trauma and storytelling; community mobilization and health activism; and the use of community health workers to combat HIV and TB and improve maternal and child health. His research sites have included primary healthcare facilities, rural and urban communities in South Africa, and local and global NGOs. He has also consulted for the WHO and UNICEF on issues of maternal and child health policy.
His background in experiential and classroom-based learning includes teaching at several U.S. and South African universities and directing numerous study abroad programs for US undergraduates for more than 10 years.
Additional Faculty and Staff
Dr. Alison Swartz works closely with Chris on the program. She is a Lecturer at UCT and her PhD research was set in the community where the program is based.
Monwabisi Maqogi, an activist and community organizer, serves as our local coordinator. He manages relationships with the community and oversees the Field Guides who work with students.
Accommodation and Meals
Lodging in Cape Town will be a shared room in the student neighborhood of Observatory, close to the University of Cape Town's campuses and to the downtown city center of Cape Town. Internet may be available on site or will be available in Internet cafes very close by.
During a weekend in Worcester (see Excursions below), students will stay with local families in the township community of Zwelethemba. You will share a room with another student and have access to electricity and running water in the house. Meals will be provided by the family.
While most of the program will take place in Cape Town, you will also spend a weekend visiting the town of Worcester. Worcester is a small farming community about 90 minutes outside of Cape Town. Set in an idyllic rural landscape, the pace of life in Worcester contrasts strongly with the active, urban lifestyle in Cape Town. Many of the same social and health challenges can be found here as well, though, and rural poverty and long distances can make many of these problems even worse. During our weekend there, we will stay with local families and explore how rural communities experience and address these many health challenges.
The University of Virginia believes in providing reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities on an individual basis. If you believe that you would require adjustments in order to fully participate in this program, please contact the Student Disability Access Center at 434-243-5180 as early as possible in order to begin this dialogue.
Passport and Visa
All participants will need a valid passport in order to participate in the program. Students must ensure that their passport is valid at least six months past the program return date and contains at least two consecutive blank pages. US passport holders will not need a visa to participate in this program. International students should consult the Department of Home Affairs for visa and entry requirements, and meet with their International Student Advisor in the International Studies Office for information about re-entering the U.S. at the conclusion of the program.
Health and Safety Information
All students considering Education Abroad should consult the Students Abroad section of the U.S. Department of State’s web-based travel resources and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Traveler’s Health web resources to research health, safety, and security conditions; visa requirements; immunization requirements; and recommendations on staying healthy and safe in their target destination(s). Students should also carefully review the UVA Education Abroad Health & Safety Abroad web page. Parents and guardians are strongly advised to review all of these resources, as well. UVA students and visiting students enrolled in UVA Education Abroad programs are subject to the University of Virginia’s Policy on Student International Travel.