International Health Major Works to Support the Homeless

MARCH 25, 2014 – During a winter marked by the polar vortex and repeat snowstorms, an undergraduate at the School of Nursing & Health Studies has been looking into the services provided to the homeless across the United States.

Helena Manguerra (NHS’15), an international health major, has been interning at the National Coalition for the Homeless, where she is working on a report called the National Assessment of Winter Services for the Homeless.

“Because of the long winter, there’s been a lot of interest in how the homeless are dealing with the winter conditions,” she says.  “We’ve created a survey that is going out to a lot of the shelters across the U.S. to gather information.”

Personal Connections

A second project she has worked on at the coalition is an infographic that details the temperatures at which emergency winter shelters will open for service.  At locations across the country, according to the graphic, those numbers vary greatly.

She says she has learned a great deal from the experience.

“Working with people who are homeless or who are formerly homeless has been eye opening,” she says.  “There are lots of opportunities to make personal connections.”

Research Opportunities

Since her first year at Georgetown, Manguerra has sought opportunities to become involved in health-related research.

For example, she worked closely with Z. Jennifer Huang, PhD, associate professor of international health, to plan a conference on HIV/AIDS research in China that took place in July 2012.  She has also provided research assistance for Huang’s work on drug use among vulnerable populations in China.

“Overall it is a really great experience working with Dr. Huang,” she says.  “It is characteristic of her to entrust undergraduates with a lot of responsibility.  I have gone to her for a lot of advice.  She’s been wonderful.”

Health Disparities

Last spring, Manguerra was also selected as one of three Health Equity Scholars, funded through the school’s Center for Health Equity – Research, Implementation, and Teaching.

As such, she worked with Laura Anderko, PhD, RN, the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Chair in Values Based Health Care, on an initiative through the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities in the federal Office of Minority Health.

The junior helped collect data regarding children in poverty and the number of primary care physicians in the population of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“It was really interesting to sit in on the calls,” she says.  “We mined databases, collected information they wanted, and organized it.  It was really cool that our team was able to give them something useful.”

Future Projects

As she wraps us this academic year, including another internship in the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Maguerra is planning more research.

This summer, she and a friend will conduct a project in Ireland on the phenomenon of NekNominations – an online drinking game where individuals quickly take a drink of an alcoholic beverage (aka “chugging”), post a video of it online, and then challenge others to do the same.

“We’re treating it like a social contagion,” she says.  “It’s a behavior that spreads throughout a population in a viral way.”

‘Hands-On Experiences’

And this fall, she is off to Tanzania for the Department of International Health’s practical experience abroad program, where she hopes to conduct research on urban poverty.

She says the major has prepared her well for all of these experiences.

“It’s the main reason I came to Georgetown, and it’s met all of my expectations,” she says.  “I really like there are so many practical elements to it.  It introduces you to the idea that working in international health is not purely an academic experience.  There are a lot of hands-on experiences you can do.”

By Bill Cessato