The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Lynchburg a $299,259 grant that will fund international research experiences for students — from both the University and the surrounding community.
The NSF’s International Research Experience for Students grant will fund two teams of three students, over each of the next three summers, to do water quality research in Costa Rica with Dr. Tom Shahady.
Shahady is an environmental science professor at Lynchburg and director of the University’s Center for Water Quality. The research will support his project, “Exploring Surface Water Contamination Links to Disease Risk in Costa Rica.”
According to Shahady, many people who live in Costa Rica develop stomach problems — cancers, ulcers, and other issues — which he links to water contamination. “There’s a really high incidence of stomach cancers and stomach ulcers,” Shahady said.
“Overall, [Costa Ricans are] not very healthy when it comes to stomach stuff. A lot of people say they never feel right — they call it the ‘grippe.’ You feel sick and have an upset stomach, diarrhea, which I think is directly related to their water.”
Shahady has been researching water quality in Costa Rica for about 15 years, often involving University of Lynchburg students in his work. With the grant, he also will involve students from the Legacy Education Center, a Lynchburg city-based post-secondary program that provides educational and work-study opportunities for underserved students.
Each of the two teams Shahady takes to Costa Rica over the next three summers will include an undergraduate and Master of Public Health student from the University of Lynchburg and one student from the Legacy Education Center.
“Tom and I have had discussions over the past few years about how to best help underserved students in Lynchburg and Central Virginia,” Randy Dunton, LEC’s executive director, said.
“He has visited LEC and is currently mentoring one of our students who is pursuing an environmental science degree. Through our interaction, we discussed the fantastic, life-changing opportunity the Costa Rica program would offer underserved students.”
Thanks to the grant, all of the students — from Lynchburg and the LEC — will participate at no cost and they also will receive a stipend. Shahady said the experience will be “empowering,” especially for the LEC students, most of whom haven’t had the opportunity to travel outside of Central Virginia.
“They’ll be working with other students, problem solving within a team, using science to solve problems in the community,” he said. “They’ve never come close to experiencing things like this. They’re going to see different cultures, places, and how different people live.”