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Public Health grad student focuses on problems, and people, around the globe

October 1, 2013

Carmen Cronin with children in Nepal

Carmen Cronin, ’14, was destined for international work: As the bilingual daughter of an Irish father and a Spanish mother, she’s volunteered, researched, studied or taught on four continents. Her passion for global health and international development has made her passport as impressive as her resume, and she hopes to see more of the world after graduating from the School of Public Health.

After moving from Glasgow, Scotland, to Bloomington, Ind., when she was 3, Cronin lost her Scottish accent but continued speaking Spanish and English. She added a third language, French, when she majored in French and Spanish, minored in history and was a pre-med student at Indiana University.

Her language abilities and her studies at Indiana University shaped her desire for international experiences during and after her undergraduate years—and are continuing to steer her studies now as she pursues a master’s in public health at Drexel. 

As a freshman and sophomore in college, Cronin volunteered with the nonprofit Timmy Global Health to provide medical assistance to rural, impoverished communities in Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

“For the first time, I witnessed abject poverty and began to understand what in public health we call the social determinants of health—the social, political, economic and cultural factors that affect one’s health status,” she said.

Cronin served as the primary translator on both of the weeklong trips when she worked with health professionals and patients. Though she enjoyed and appreciated the experiences, Cronin realized she didn’t want to limit herself to short mission trips that could only “address short-term needs, like a Band-Aid.”

“Often on these types of trips, it is easy to see individuals just as patients that you need to shuffle through the clinic,” she said. “But, the more I spoke to them, the more they become individuals like you and me—except, of course, their lives seemed to bear no resemblance to the one I was so accustomed to.”

Cronin’s junior year spent studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, also gave her a global perspective she hadn’t witnessed before.

“Let’s just say this was a glamorous year,” she said. “Excursions to St. Tropez, Nice, and the Cannes Film Festival were a jarring contrast to what I had seen in Central America and the Caribbean.”

But Cronin continued her Spanish after graduation when she won a two-year grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education to work as an English teaching assistant in a bilingual primary school in Madrid after she graduated. In the summer after her first year in Spain, Cronin volunteered and taught in Northern Rwanda with PREFER, an organization that provides English lessons and operates a medical clinic in the country. 

When she wasn’t teaching math, English and art in the preschool or adult ESL classes in the afternoons, Cronin taught a basic health-and-hygiene course she designed for new mothers. She covered basic sanitation and health-care practices for the moms and their babies aged 0-24 months.

More informal discussions occurred when Cronin let the women ask questions about her or “white people in general.”

“I definitely got some interesting questions,” she said. “These conversations also made me aware of the realities of domestic violence, gender inequity and the inaccessibility of basic necessities like clean water, education and health care.”

According to Cronin, her two months in Rwanda encouraged her to apply for a master’s of public health and narrowed her interests to maternal and child health, global health, international development and ethics. As a graduate student at Drexel, she applied to the School of Public Health’s Opening Doors research program because of its emphasis on health disparities and the unique faculty mentorship program.  

She started working with Dr. Suruchi Sood, an associate professor in the Department of Community Health & Prevention in the School of Public Health, on a systematic review of social and behavior change approaches to promote better ways to address violence against children issues, a study commissioned by UNICEF Headquarters in New York. After Opening Doors ended, Cronin continues to work with Sood in disseminating the results from the system review and also analyzing the results from an online survey sent to UNICEF child protection officers and communication for development officers.

Cronin's work on violence against children led to an invitation to work on another UNICEF-funded project in Nepal which Sood was already working on along a team of international experts through Rain Barrel Communications. They will be responsible for developing a behavioral monitoring plan within three thematic areas: creating open-defecation-free communities, preventing violence against children and promoting the health of mothers and children during the first 1,000 days—from the date of conception to 24 months of age. 

Cronin received a grant from the Opening Doors program to continue the work she had been doing with Sood and travel to Nepal in July where she helped conduct participatory research with women and children. She presented preliminary results from this research in a two day communication for development strategy consultation workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal. 

Cronin hopes to use her work with Sood as part of her Community-Based Master’s Project. And she's set her sights on what she hopes will be her next international project: a trip to Senegal to work with an organization that promotes health awareness through an educational TV show. She's applying for a Fulbright grant to get her there.

“It is incredibly rewarding to see how research conducted in Philadelphia can have a direct impact on work being done literally halfway around the world,” she said. “It’s also gratifying to see the fruits of research that come from work done in the community make its way back to the community, instead of sitting on a shelf collecting dust in a library.”