Mercer University Grad Focuses on HIV Prevention in Peace Corps Work

By Jennifer Borage

One year after graduating from Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University, Kayla Beasley is making an impact in Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Her work mainly focuses on HIV prevention among youth, adolescent girls and young women. But it’s wide-ranging, also touching on maternal and child health; water, hygiene and sanitation; and malaria prevention. “Every day is different, and each day brings something new to learn or teach,” said Beasley, who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2018 majoring in global health studies with a double-minor in global development studies and history.

Beasley works with the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, a nongovernmental organization focused on HIV research and prevention in Uganda. She’s mainly working on two projects in support of the group—implementing the Grassroots Soccer program at primary and secondary schools and giving lessons as part of the DREAMS program.

Grassroots Soccer is an adolescent health group that uses soccer to educate and inspire youth to overcome health challenges. “It is a fun and interactive way to engage youth in HIV prevention and malaria prevention,” Beasley said.

DREAMS, which stands for Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe Women, aims to reduce HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan African countries. About 1.3 million adults are living with HIV in Uganda, and women are disproportionately affected, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, which leads the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat.

Over 59% of infected adults are women, according to UNAIDS, and new HIV infections among young women, ages 15-24, were more than double those among young men.

As part of the DREAMS program, Beasley gives lessons on sexual reproductive health, which oftentimes include discussing maternal and child health. She also teaches girls how to make reusable menstrual pads as a way of empowering them to not be embarrassed by menstruation. Embarrassment often leads to girls missing school and feeling ostracized in their communities, Beasley said.

Making the pads is also used as an income-generating activity and leads to discussions about water, hygiene and sanitation, which is essential to prevent infections and diseases, she said.

Beasley lives in Central Uganda in a district called Kayunga about 50 miles northeast of Kampala, the country’s capital. Every region of Uganda is distinct, she said, which makes traveling in her free time enjoyable. “Every region has different tribes which speak different languages, so you get to experience a variety of cultures in just one country,” Beasley said.

Beasley said her biggest challenge has been learning to take one day at a time. “Throughout Peace Corps service, there are specific points in service when volunteers are usually in a high point or low point in their service,” she said. “But what many people fail to understand is that … you have several highs and lows in just a single day. I am constantly reminding myself to keep putting myself out there because even if I can’t see it now, I am impacting someone’s life in some way or fashion by just showing up and being there.”

Beasley said her time at Mercer prepared her for the Peace Corps experience by giving her an understanding of the universal problems faced around the world, especially in developing countries, and how developed countries have contributed to and perpetuated those issues. The university also taught her how to “effectively, respectfully and positively contribute to the uplifting and development of those countries,” she said.

She said she’s grateful to her professors “for everything they taught me over my four years at Mercer and the tools and knowledge that they knowingly and unknowingly imparted on me, which have not only impacted my life but also the lives of the people I work with every day in my community.”

This story originally appeared on the Mercer University website.

Mercer University Team Creates 3D Yearbooks for Visually Impaired High Schoolers

By Andrea Honaker

Having a high school yearbook is something that most of us probably don’t think twice about. We flip through the pages whenever we want to see our former classmates and reminisce about our graduation year.

A team at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University has created a keepsake product to help visually impaired students remember this life milestone. On May 1, Dr. Sinjae Hyun and Dr. Scott Schultz with Mercer’s School of Engineering and several of their students presented “Touch3D Yearbooks” to graduating seniors at Georgia Academy for the Blind (GAB).

“It’s something that the visually able take for granted, being able to see family members, friends. I wanted to be a part of something that gives that to visually impaired students as well,” said Jordan Brewton, a sophomore biomedical engineering major who helped manage the project.

This is the second year Mercer has made these custom yearbooks, which feature 3D-printed face models of the graduates, for the Macon school. The project is supported by funding from Mercer’s Research That Reaches Out initiative.

Dr. Hyun, professor of biomedical engineering, said he found inspiration for the project during a workshop in South Korea in December 2016. A presenter talked about a bust model that was built for a blind high school graduate, which led Dr. Hyun to begin brainstorming how something similar could be done using technology at Mercer.

Mercer student Michelle Jung (left) gives GAB student Judy Charles a 3D yearbook. (Photo by Chris Smith)

He connected with GAB Superintendent Dr. Cindy Gibson and pitched the idea of the 3D yearbook. The Mercer team used a 3D scanner to scan the faces of seven Class of 2018 graduates, printed head models using a 3D printer, made boards to display the models on, and gave a yearbook board to each of the students.

“The idea was perfect,” Dr. Gibson said. “This is their project, and they do this for us. We get the benefit. I think it’s very exciting, and I think it will be a major keepsake (for our graduates) for the rest of their lives, just like we save our yearbooks.”

The Mercer team had to rethink its strategy for this year’s 3Dyearbook, since GAB had 11 students graduating. It would take too long to produce all the head models using last year’s method, and this year’s yearbook would need two boards to represent all the students, Dr. Hyun said.

Dr. Schultz, associate dean of engineering and industrial engineering professor, helped Dr. Hyun come up with a solution. They 3D-printed the 11 heads, created silicone molds of them and then cast them.

They were able to make all of the heads in about eight hours, compared to the minimum three months that would have been required using last year’s method, Dr. Schultz said. They created hinged wooden cases that open to display five students and the GAB logo on the left side and the other six students on the right side. The students’ names are included in braille and regular type.

The 3D yearbook features face models of 11 Georgia Academy for the Blind Class of 2019 graduates inside a wooden case. (Photo by Chris Smith)

Thirteen Mercer students were involved in the project during the fall 2018 semester, when they designed a production manual for the yearbook. For the spring semester, 17 students used the manual to create the product, Dr. Hyun said. Sarah Spalding, a freshman biomedical engineering major, said she enjoyed being a part of the process from start to finish, from the scanning of the faces to the building of the cases.

“It was definitely a valuable experience,” said Michelle Jung, a freshman industrial engineering major. “All the cases were constructed by us, hands-on, and each of them are unique in their own way.”

The plan is to share the manual with schools and centers for the visually impaired across the United States so they can create yearbooks for their graduating seniors, Dr. Hyun said.

“In the beginning, I just tried to apply this 3D technology to the blind community. Then I saw those responses, how they accept this as a good approach. It felt really great,” he said. “I’m a really lucky guy with these dedicated students. Mercer has a great student community.”

On May 1, the graduating seniors at GAB felt the molds inside their new “Touch3D Yearbooks.” They were all smiles as they found their own faces and identified their classmates. GAB student Austin Rogers said he loved his yearbook and planned to display it on a shelf in his bedroom.

“I think it’s great because we could feel people’s faces versus actually seeing them,” said GAB student Judy Charles.

The project has become a part of the Mercer On Mission (MOM) South Korea experience. In addition to teaching English and robotics to children at the Drim School, the MOM team members created 3D face models of two staff members at a nearby center for the blind during the 2018 trip.

For this summer’s MOM trip from May 16-June 15, they will create 3D family photos for blind residents at the center and also make 3D yearbooks for graduating seniors at a local school for the blind. The Mercer team will teach the Drim School students about the scanning, modeling and printing process so they can continue the project after they leave the country.