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The Importance of Being "Ernst"

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Alexandra Ernst, a junior on the Rice swim team majoring in Global Health, had a unique international experience this summer. Among a host humanitarian activities in some remote regions of Africa, Ernst was also part of a group of Rice students who helped initiate a fog-water collection system in arid mountain villages in southern Morocco.

Ernst Photo Gallery

 

Ghana and Morocco

 "This summer I was fortunate enough to venture not once, but twice, across to the beautiful African coast," Ernst said. "The first venture was a three-week, service-based trip to Cape Coast, Ghana, through Rice's Humanitarian Medical Outreach (HuMed). Eleven students were each paired-up with a local volunteer organization that matched our personal interests. I worked for HEPENS (Health & Prevention, Environmental Sanitation) teaching primary students about H1N1 and proper hand-washing, giving community lectures about water purification and sanitation and hypertension, assisting the local sanitation organization with beach clean-up, and shadowing at a hospital. We were able to experience both the beauty and the poverty in Cape Coast. I walked the rainforest canopy in Kakumdo National Forest and walked home along the most beautiful palm-tree-ladden coastal road, but I also saw children playing alongside vultures in the landfills and saw victims of malnutrition and leprosy. It was truly an eye-opening experience, and as my first trip abroad, there was no way I could have predicted the love I would develop for the Ghanaian people and culture. I was always welcomed with open arms.

 

"The second of my two African adventures," Ernst explained, "was a month-long internship funded by the Baker Institute to help initiate a fog-water collection system in extremely water-deficient mountain villages outside of Sidi Ifni, in the southern region of Morocco. The internship was made available to Rice students in POST 411, Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development, co-taught by Amy Jaffe, Dr. Ron Soligo, and Dr. Nia Georges. Five other students and I worked with Dar Si Hmad, a developmental organization in Sidi Ifni, and Dr. Vicky Marzol from the Univeristy of La Laguna (the Canary Islands) to search for a sustainable method of water retrieval, storage, and transportation. Dr. Marzol has been doing extensive research with standard fog collectors (essentially very fine mesh nets placed to capture condensation from fog) in this region for the past five years and has now gathered substantial data on the most efficient placement of the nets with respect to wind speed, humidity, etc. This technical information, however, is useless without a proper social and cultural understanding of the communities. Our team's greatest contribution came through survey design and analysis. Over the course of our stay we were able to visit homes and talk with families about the water retrieval and storage process. We now have the information and data we need to develop technical solutions with the tools available at Rice.

 

"The trips to Cape Coast and Sidi Ifni provided me with both hands-on experience working with developmental organizations abroad and invaluable cultural immersions," she said. "They were both trips about science and people. As a CEVE and Global Health student, I went into this summer hoping to gain a better understanding of what it takes to work successfully and sustainably in the developing world and though I still don't have a complete answer, I do have a new-found passion to bring to the classroom. I can now see how the science of the classroom can be applied in the real world and I hope that this summer will lead to more opportunities in the field of sustainable development. It truly was the best summer of my life; I never new that I could feel so welcomed in such foreign places."

 

A college swimmer helping bring water to an otherwise arid region seems to be a perfect match. Ernst has similarly been a perfect fit for the Owls' swim team. Last spring she battled-back from a nagging injury to post her best times of the season and score for the Blue & Gray in two events at annual Conference USA Championship meet. The Seattle, Wa., native also posted the Owls' third-fastest time of the year in the 100-yard butterfly before being named to the 2009-2010 C-USA Academic Honor Roll at the end of the semester.

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