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University of Miami: Graduate student expands her research in women’s reproductive rights

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University of Miami international graduate student Melissa Triana left her 10-week summer internship feeling empowered and invigorated. Nevertheless, she understands the fight to protect women and girls’ reproductive rights is far from over.

On a path to earn a Master of Arts in Global Health and Society in the College of Arts and Sciences, Triana sought an internship that would expand her skills to better understand the global health framework and acquire further advocacy and community health strategies.

For the Colombia native, her time with Action for Mothers and Children, a nonprofit foundation with a mission to improve the health of infants, mothers, and children in the Republic of Kosovo, proved to be an unforgettable experience.

“During my interview process, I proposed a customizable experience that would allow me to expand my research while at the same time learn how the primary care settings in a capitalist country would address these types of diseases,” said Triana, who studies noncommunicable diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity in pregnant women.

While living and learning in Kosovo, each Monday Triana attended team meetings to develop plans for primary care settings around the newest European country. Tuesday through Friday, she collected data, conducted surveys, developed and wrote grants, spoke with various local organizations about reproductive and sexual rights, and planned and executed large community events for women.

“It was such a wonderful experience working at Action for Mothers and Children,” said Triana, who crafted a template of 14 questions to interview nurses, midwives, gynecologists, and primary care doctors aimed at helping them improve their patient care. “I was able to gather so much valuable information about their health care system and get a sense of what policies and strategies they implement to prevent the type of diseases I am studying.”

On the weekends, Triana fully immersed herself in the country’s culture.

“Before arriving to Kosovo, I told myself I wasn’t going to Google any pictures because I wanted to keep an open mind,” said Triana. “It was nothing like I’ve ever seen or tasted—the food was delicious and fresh.”

Following her observation of several primary care settings in Kosovo, Triana produced an observational guide to share about the interactions between patient and staff.

“There were a lot of memorable moments on this trip—but most of all, I will never forget how I observed the real power of a patriarchal society,” said Triana whose long-term goal is improving and challenging gender norms and power relations. “It was shocking to see that a woman’s husband and mother-in-law has the power to make all the decisions when it comes to her health and her body.”

In September, she was invited back to Kosovo to present her findings at a regional conference on health promotion and education that was organized by the country’s Ministry of Health and National Institute of Public Health. The College of Arts and Sciences sponsored her trip.

“Supporting Melissa’s trip was made possible thanks to a fund in the dean’s office specifically for sudents who are doing research in issues related to women,” said Maryann Tobin, assistant dean of professional education and personalized learning.

The College of Arts and Sciences’ interdisciplinary global health studies program offers undergraduate and graduate students access to explore and experience internships across the globe, such as Triana’s involvement with Kosovo’s Action for Mothers and Children.

“We are very supportive of all students interested in the study of global health, as it exists at this intersection of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], social sciences, and the humanities,” said Tobin. “The global health studies program is growing, and the more students entering the program, the more we can prepare the next generation to help overcome global health care barriers.”