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Although the Zika virus has been a known health concern for some 70 years, in the last 24 months the malady has spread throughout the world, including the continental U.S. Rachel Ward is committed to fighting Zika on the front lines.

As part of her Boren Fellowship, Rachel will spend six months in Brazil, mastering Portuguese and working with medical and public health professionals to better understand methods for confronting Zika and similar vector-borne diseases.

She’ll spend several months in a language immersion program at Olinda Portuguese Language School, then she will enroll at Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Recife, where she will continue to polish her language skills and work alongside physicians and medical students in a cohort study of infants with microcephaly caused by the Zika virus.

“My research concerns ways in which the U.S. can learn from Brazilian public health response systems to the Zika Virus and similar vector-borne diseases,” says Rachel, who graduated from UGA in 2013 with degrees in Spanish and Latin American and Caribbean studies and will earn master’s degrees in public health and social work in 2018.

“I am also interested in ways in which social work organizations can provide systems of support during epidemics. As our climate continues to get warmer, I believe the U.S. will begin to experience more of these epidemics that Brazil and the rest of Latin America have been battling for ages.”

A metro Atlanta native, Rachel is passionate about serving her community. While at UGA she has worked as a volunteer tutor at Oasis Catolico in Athens and at an orphanage in Costa Rica during a study abroad semester. After her undergraduate studies, she worked locally with Project Family, was an academic advisor at UGA’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute, and volunteered with Casa de Amistad. During her graduate studies, she has interned with the Athens Farmer’s Market, Early Head Start, and Mercy Health Center, and she has continued her work with foster youth through her job at Project Family.

“From professors and students, to doctors, non-profit leaders, pastors, and foster parents, I’ve been radically inspired by the power of a loving community, and I plan to take those experiences and stories with me into my career,” she says.

Rachel aims to present her Boren research at health conferences after returning to the U.S. To fulfill her Boren service requirement, she will seek full-time employment at the CDC in the areas of global health or maternal-child health, using her Portuguese and Spanish language skills “in a way that promotes global health security.”

Boren Scholarship Profiles | External Scholarship Profiles