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Connecting Urbanization and Healthcare

Through research and interning at US Department of Defense

Brian Allen is a senior graduating with a degree in Public Health: Epidemiology, and a minor in International Development. He has been deeply involved with the Honors Program at BYU by working as a Teaching Assistant for Honors 120, the introductory course for the Honors Program, for five semesters, and serving two consecutive years on the Honors Student Leadership Council. Allen was named a Kennedy Research Scholar in 2018 for his original research titled “‘A War on the Poor?’ A Geostatistical Analysis of Drug Suspect Killings in Metro Manila, Philippines” and awarded the title of Kennedy Scholar in July 2019 for his academic excellence, international experience, and moral character. For the past two years Allen has been the Program Coordinator for the Malawi International Development Program and helped 19 students apply and receive over 100,000 USD in grants and scholarships for the program. Allen is currently serving as a Co-President of the Students for International Development (SID) club.

Allen’s undergraduate excellence and experience has culminated in his internship this academic year with the US Department of Defense. His internship is serviced through the Virtual Student Federal Service, a program that enables students to virtually intern with the federal government. Of his internship, Allen says, “I'm on a team working to develop geostatistical models to simulate the inputs and outputs of megacities, especially in natural disaster, terrorism, and civil war contexts. As part of this team, I'm working with two other interns on health and human services delivery in megacities.” Brian Allen feels this internship allows him to apply his interdisciplinary passions in a relevant real-world context. “I've always been fascinated by globalization and urbanization, especially the impact on human health that our built environment has. This is an opportunity to merge my interests of public health and urbanization into one project and I'm very excited about it.”Allen found that his passion for interdisciplinary thinking was fostered in the Honors Program. “I decided to join the Honors Program because I loved the idea of interdisciplinary learning. I was very scared about choosing a major and felt like choosing one thing would limit me. The Honors Program has given me a strong foundation of interdisciplinary learning and I have loved being able to interact with a set of students with diverse interests and backgrounds.” Allen further remarked that this training has helped him to see the application of interdisciplinary thinking in his career. “The Honors Program taught me how to solve complex problems in the margins between disciplines. I am interested in the intersection of health and development and want to work on creating more equitable health systems for vulnerable populations throughout the world.”Allen started working on his Honor Thesis, “Informal Alcohol Perceptions and Consequences in Communities in Malawi” the summer after his freshman year. He was able to get a head start and work on his research for the first two summers he spent in Malawi. “The idea of researching the impact of alcohol came to me as I was brainstorming potentially productive projects for my time at School of Agriculture for Family Independence (SAFI) in rural Dowa, Malawi, about an hour and a half outside the capital of Lilongwe. I was told that while the income of graduates was increasing, the nutritional status of their children was not. I was curious where the extra money was going, and after consulting some literature I hypothesized it might have been going towards alcohol.” After being presented with this information, Allen knew which direction to go. “My thesis has two parts: the first is an evaluation of the social, economic, and physical burden of the harmful use of alcohol among students at SAFI and the second is more of an ethnographic study of the brewers of local alcohol (referred to as informal alcohol in the literature).”His findings from his Honors Thesis, as well as many other research projects, have proven valuable to the local community. “[For my Honors Thesis] we found that over 30 percent of SAFI male students were spending over 30 percent of their monthly family income on alcohol and also found some pretty strong links to domestic and sexual violence. I'm working with SAFI still to implement some alcohol related policies to mitigate the harmful use of alcohol among students at SAFI. I'm also currently finishing a paper on my research with the brewers that, when published, will be the most comprehensive research ever done on informal brewers in Malawi.” This past summer, marking his third spent in Malawi, Allen spent his time mentoring other students on their individual research projects on program evaluation, domestic and sexual violence, gender mainstreaming, and nutritional status assessment. He also personally researched malaria incidence at SAFI, and not only prescribed best practices to prevent malaria transmission, but designed a health care delivery system for their students.For others who are seeking to accomplish similar achievements and find similar opportunities in international development, Allen offers the following advice:

  • Start on your thesis early! I started on mine the summer after my freshman year and have been able to have multiple phases because I had time before I graduated.
  • Find a good mentor who you really connect with and value that relationship.
  • Look for grants and scholarships on campus for experiential learning, there is so much funding available to help BYU students do amazing things.

Before graduation, Allen’s main goal is to publish his Honors Thesis in an academic journal. He also has applied to the Peace Corps and other opportunities for his gap year before applying to graduate school.