Student's International Health Project to Honor Alumna Stephanie Jean-Charles

June 29, 2011 — University of Virginia graduate student Caitlin Carr returns to Africa in July for work that will honor the memory of fellow alumna Stephanie Jean-Charles, who died in the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

Carr will travel to South Africa with another U.Va. student and two nursing professors to study the care of terminally ill patients in rural areas of South Africa. Her work is sponsored in part through the Stephanie Jean-Charles Memorial Fund of U.Va.'s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Carr, who is enrolled in the Batten School, is the fund's first grant recipient.

Carr and rising fourth-year nursing student Sarah Borchelt will serve as research assistants for the nursing professors Marianne Baernholdt and Cathy Campbell, who are directing a study of learning needs for community health workers caring for clients and their families who are in need of palliative care. The clients often have HIV/AIDS. The study will take place in the Mpumalanga province, which has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country. The study is funded by a Deepening Global Education grant from U.Va.'s Center for International Studies.

"We will be taking notes from all of the focus groups that they are conducting," Carr said, "and we will write transcripts and identify the main issues that come out of these focus groups."

The students also will help organize workshops for the professors and assist the project in other ways, Carr said.

Carr did not know Jean-Charles, but both share a connection through the Batten School and the College of Arts & Sciences. Jean-Charles, a native of Haiti, was earning her master's degree from the Batten School when she died while returning to research her country's educational system. She had earned her undergraduate degree in French and foreign affairs from the College in 2009.

Carr, who received her undergraduate degree in political and social thought from the College in May, also will be developing and researching her own separate study on palliative care. She will study "what the community health workers say are their biggest obstacles … and also the cultural barriers and issues that these patients and their families face."

Her goal for her project will be to determine if the palliative care system should be changed or restructured, "or how they could improve it, given their human resources and cultural constraints to better provide for future patients" – public policy questions that relate to her master's degree focus.

Carr conducted public health research two summers ago in Uganda through the Center for Global Health's scholars program, studying clean water, hygiene and sanitation. The Center for Global Health is providing additional funds for Carr's July research project and travel expenses.

Jean-Charles was honored with her 2010 graduating class and received her master's degree posthumously. Her father, Hervé Jean-Charles, accepted his daughter's hood and diploma and spoke at the Batten School's degree ceremony. He also gave the Batten School a painting of a street scene in Port-au-Prince, which now hangs in the student lounge at Varsity Hall, the Batten School's current home.

The memorial fund supporting Carr's work was established by philanthropist Jane Batten of Virginia Beach, widow of Batten School benefactor Frank Batten Sr., and Batten School Dean Harry Harding. Contributions have come from individual students; the Batten School's class of 2010, which gave its class gift to the fund; and the class of 2011, which held a Batten Ball last November and contributed a portion of the ticket sales. Other donors include Batten School faculty and alumni.

The fund currently has more than $16,500, a portion of which is supporting Carr's work in South Africa. Separately, the Seven Society made a $7,000 gift to the Office of African-American Affairs to assist one student for each of the next seven years in traveling abroad for community service in memory of Jean-Charles.

"The work that Caitlin Carr will be doing in South Africa, providing palliative care to people with HIV/AIDS, is exactly the kind of project that the fund was intended to support," Harding said. "Moreover, it is an example of the growing collaboration between the Batten School and the Nursing School in the areas of both public health and leadership. I am very pleased that Caitlin is the first student to receive a fellowship from the Stephanie Jean-Charles Memorial Fund."

— By Carl Briggs

Media Contact

Dan Heuchert

Assistant Director of University News and Chief Copy Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications