Nov. 9, 2005
By Jennifer Cochran
When Maureen Magee left her job in Washington, D.C., to come study international development at Ohio University, she did so with the intention of getting back to Africa where she spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia. Now she hopes to travel to the continent next summer as part of a new study abroad program focusing on HIV/AIDS in Africa. Mandi Chikombero, an assistant professor of telecommunication, will lead the program, an HIV/AIDS field study to Gaborone, Botswana.
HIV/AIDS in Africa represents one of Chikombero's main research and teaching interests. She says the issue of HIV/AIDS was all around her growing up in Zimbabwe where her mother is a health counselor. After coming to the United States to pursue her doctorate in communication studies at Kent State University, Chikombero began to conduct research on HIV/AIDS communication, which served as the focus for her dissertation, "An Analysis and Interpretation of Televised Anti-HIV/AIDS Public Service Announcements in Zimbabwe."
This fall Chikombero taught two courses related to the issue: Health Communication Program Evaluation and AIDS in Africa: Health Communication Contexts, Concepts and Challenges. "I've been really lucky getting to teach what I want," she says.
In her class on AIDS in Africa students examined the theories used to support HIV/AIDS education and prevention campaigns and critique current approaches to the epidemic through case studies focusing on efforts in various countries. The class on health communication program evaluation will equip students with practical skills for conducting evaluation and assessment.
Chikombero's students come from several different continents and bring diverse backgrounds and experience to their classes. "The students have a lot of practical experience," she says. "These classes give them the theory behind what they may have already been doing."
Magee is one of the students in Chikombero's AIDS in Africa course and says the class involves a lot of work, but she appreciates the relevance of the assignments and the practical skills she will take away from the class. Having been a Peace Corps volunteer in an African country with a low HIV/AIDS rate, Magee says she is interested in how other countries can avoid what has happened in East Africa where infection rates are very high. She believes the HIV/AIDS issue is closely tied to development and looks forward to the opportunity to apply and test the theories she is now learning about communication as a tool to prevent HIV/AIDS during this summer's field study in Botswana. "Experience is a powerful teacher, there should always be a practical outlet to what you're learning," commented Magee.
Chikombero had initially planned to design such a field study in her home country of Zimbabwe, but decided on Botswana since the country is more peaceful and secure than her own. Lucky Odirile, a graduate of the Center for International Studies who works on HIV/AIDS issues in Botswana, collaborated with Chikombero on the planning of the program which will be held for the first time during the summer of 2005. Chikombero traveled to Botswana over the summer to make preparatory arrangements for the field study and she looks forward to taking a group of students on this pilot program in June. The HIV/AIDS field study will be a five-week program during the first summer session beginning with a weeklong orientation at Ohio University. While in Botswana students will have an opportunity to learn from direct contact with organizations engaged in HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention initiatives in Gaborone, Botswana's capital city. Program activities include hands-on fieldwork, workshops, HIV/AIDS communication program planning, and lectures at the University of Botswana. Students will also have the opportunity to learn about Botswana's culture through lectures and field trips.
The HIV/AIDS field study is designed primarily for graduate students and successful participants must have an interest in HIV/AIDS or experience researching or working in HIV/AIDS-related areas. Participants will register for a full load of graduate coursework. For more information about the HIV/AIDS field study program visit the Office of Education Abroad Web page at www.ohiou.edu/studyabroad/africa/AIDSAfrica.html.
Jennifer Cochran is assistant director of communication for the Center for International Studies.