An ETSU public health doctoral student was recently chosen to present her project during Graduate Education Day on Capitol Hill in Nashville.

Beth O’Connell’s project about ensuring safe water in developing communities.

“It was graduate education week in the capitol and they wanted student representatives from the various graduate programs across the state of Tennessee,” said Beth O’Connell.

Megan Quinn, an assistant professor in ETSU’s Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology and O’Connell’s faculty mentor, nominated O’Connell to represent ETSU.

O’Connell said she’s been interested in global health since she was a child.

“The church that I grew up in supported a lot of missionaries,” O’Connell said. “I heard a lot about those kinds of roles when I was very young, so I got interested in it from that perspective.”

O’Connell said as she grew, she got more specific with her areas of interest.

“I have actually worked in lower resource settings quite a bit since then and learned more specifically about my interests,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell said lower resource settings refer to areas part of the developing world, or third world nations, as well as places like the underdeveloped regions in Appalachia. Any place that has low access to resources falls under that category.

“I have been visiting the village of Cyegera in Rwanda since 2009,” O’Connell said. “It’s a small village close to 1,400 people. I’ve been working with them for about seven years and that’s where this particular research project started.”

O’Connell said she enjoys working with specific communities and helping them identify their specific health issues.By spending time in the community and conversing with community leaders, O’Connell learned about daily issues and obtained statistical research.

O’Connell said in rural settings with low access to resources there’s not a way to test the filters according to protocol.

“There’s not access to a lab,” O’Connell said. “Most tests require specific temperatures, so we are specifically working to test what are called field-use indicators for this filtration mechanism, so they can be used more sustainably and with confidence.”

The filters eliminate pathogens and other toxins from public drinking water to make it safer for use and consumption.

O’Connell said ETSU’s college of public health ultimately played a significant role in supporting her in pursuing her specific area of interest.

“They are really great about being student focused and encouraging students to pursue their area of interest professionally and in research,” O’Connell said.

“And with that support, I have been able to do this project and get funding for it.”