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Teaching a Research Methods Course in Sierra Leone Offers Harris Opportunity to Give Back

Faculty don’t always get the chance to lend their expertise in an area that shaped them. But Muriel Harris, PhD, associate professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, recently returned to the area where she grew up for just that reason.

“I consider this opportunity one for giving back and using my expertise and experiences gained here in the U.S. - specifically teaching at UofL- to build the human capital of Sierra Leone,” Dr. Harris said.

During her week-long trip, she met with the International Office for Migration (IOM) in Freetown and provided educational resources for the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS), which is part of a larger diaspora project that IOM is developing. Dr. Harris is one of two faculty members engaged in the pilot phase of this project, which uses a technology-based distance education model and platform to deliver course content by members of the diaspora. 

Dr. Harris spent four of her six days onsite teaching. In addition to meeting with students and teaching sessions in Research Methods, she also met with the director and staff of IOM, the deputy vice chancellor of COMAHS, and a visiting team from London also working with the College of Medicine to improve capacity for disease prevention. 

Dr. Harris’ program is offered to both master’s students in public health and undergraduate medical students.

“Since this is a pilot study, I got a chance to learn about the specific needs of the College of Medicine; how to offer a program like this for a variety of students; and most importantly, what a tremendous need there is for this course among multiple programs,” she said.

Dr. Harris said the experience has broadened her perspective as it relates to international public health. She said, “Teaching this course has allowed me to use more culturally appropriate examples in public health and relate my teaching to their experiences. I also had to be more intentional in helping students learn as they don’t have the benefit of textbooks and other learning materials that students here have access to so easily.”

She concluded by saying this program wouldn't be successful without the hard work of Kunikazu Akao, IOM Project Coordinator of Diaspora Engagement, Rashid Conteh, and all of the staff. She said, “It was a real delight to be able to use my students’ experiences and translate those into a research methods process, something they never have had the chance to do. It also was very rewarding to collaborate with unlikely partners and work as a team with others who are just as committed to students’ success. I hope to have the opportunity to return in the future.”

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