Two trips are better than one: Falk senior applies public health skills in East Africa

Alizee McLorg is pictured outside Rodi Dispensary
Alizée (Left) in East Africa

For Alizée McLorg ’20, public health is everywhere—from mentoring young adults in local Syracuse schools, to analyzing demographic health surveys in East Africa. Her time at Syracuse has allowed her to do both, and in the process, discover her passion for improving the health of communities around the world.

McLorg was born in Quebec City, Canada and moved to San Diego, California when she was young. Excited by the idea of going to college far from home, Syracuse University’s neuroscience program caught her attention. It was a perfect fit for her plans to go to medical school. She enrolled as a neuroscience major. But her first semester of freshman year, McLorg discovered something completely new.

As a volunteer with the Office of Engagement’s Young Scholars program, she mentored middle- and high-school students of refugee families. “This experience completely changed my path and made me passionate about working with under-served communities. I was always interested in health. So, after my freshman year, I transferred to Falk College to be a public health major.”

Now as a senior with majors in both public health and neuroscience and a minor in mathematics, McLorg reflects on her time at Syracuse University, which took her all the way to Kenya and back—twice. “All my experiences from freshman and sophomore year pushed me to study abroad in Nairobi, Kenya during Fall 2018. When I returned in Spring 2019, I was eager to start my honors capstone and was interested in returning to Kenya to do meaningful work.”

She connected with her faculty advisors in the Department of Public Health, who connected her with an internship opportunity through nearby SUNY Upstate Medical University. Along with Upstate faculty and medical students and residents, McLorg returned to Kenya in Summer 2019.

Upstate partners with the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-Kenya (USAMRD-K) to support its Health and Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS). This is where McLorg focused her internship experience. “The HDSS site is located in Kombewa, Kenya, a rural community about 30 minutes outside of Kisumu and works to collect important information on the health of the population. It covers approximately 40,000 households and 140,000 individuals,” McLorg explains. “Demographic health surveys (DHS) are used all over the world and are critical to capturing accurate information about a population to create solutions to inequities and health problems.”

McLorg worked directly with the HDSS team. “I observed the collection of demographic health data and verbal autopsy data: a common method of determining cause of death in low-income countries. After observing, I helped administer surveys to health facilities to better understand the available resources.” In addition, she improved her Swahili language skills and improved her skills with DHS, a data collection format commonly used in developing countries. “I also solidified my interest in social determinants of health and reducing health disparities in low-income countries,” she adds.

A Renée Crown Honors student, McLorg’s internship was also her honors capstone, supported by a Crown-Wise Award to cover the cost of travel and living expenses. McLorg, who typically works full-time in the summer, says the Crown-Wise Award made this trip possible.

After graduation, McLorg plans to attend graduate school and use her skills in international health, implementing and evaluating public health programs for East African and refugee populations. “My experience in Kisumu helped me understand how to be effective and useful in a foreign setting and how to develop lasting relationships that lend to successful and meaningful projects. I believe this ‘boots on the ground’ work will give me better context and perspective when working in the future,” she says.

“My time in Kenya and with the Young Scholars program brought significant meaning and purpose and have helped me identify my passion for global and refugee health,” says McLorg. “Syracuse University and Falk College have given me tremendous opportunities to identify my passions and connect with like-minded individuals.”

For more information about the Department of Public Health at Syracuse University’s Falk College, visit the Falk College website.