Baltimore-area high school student Katherine Paseman already had a full plate of interests when she attended a presentation on cervical cancer prevention last year and learned about Jhpiego’s global mission to prevent the needless deaths of women and their families.
But instead of tuning out, she tuned in.
The talk by one of Jhpiego’s promising engineering innovators helped kick off January for Jhpiego, a series of maternal health awareness events and fundraisers sponsored by Garrison Forest School and other girls’ schools. The presentation got 16-year-old Katherine thinking about how she could marry her diverse interests and use them to help keep women and children healthy and safe.
A self-proclaimed feminist who likes to dance as much as she likes to discuss philosophy, Katherine is an aspiring biomedical engineer and member of Garrison Forest School’s WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) program. Following in the footsteps of her parents, both of whom are retired engineers, she began working on a project with her sister. Over seven years—through science fair projects, collaborative work with professionals and a good bit of tinkering—they developed a hemometer, a tool that uses light to analyze a patient’s blood.
The two sisters became interested in the hemometer after their mother was diagnosed with anemia. It took nearly a week after her blood was drawn for a diagnosis to come back—a dangerously long turnaround time. “My mom did eventually recover from her anemia, but what this experience really impressed upon me was the impact of not having in-clinic diagnostic technology available,” Katherine says.
At the Jhpiego presentation, Katherine learned about mothers across the world who encounter the same problem that her mother had. “The whole January for Jhpiego experience captured my imagination.”
The teenager seized on the idea of maternal health as the cause through which she could develop her varied interests and passions while serving others. She began volunteering with Jhpiego’s Innovations team and their partners at the Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design at the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus. This unique collaboration jointly develops low-cost innovative solutions to today’s global health challenges. “I lucked into working with Sean [Monagle, a Jhpiego Project Engineer], which was one of the most rewarding experiences Garrison Forest School and Jhpiego have given me,” Katherine says.
As her luck would have it, Katherine spent the summer interning with Monagle and a team researching better screening methods for risk factors associated with pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy-related hypertensive condition that can progress into life-threatening eclampsia, a leading cause of maternal deaths worldwide. While her peers were swimming, cycling or relaxing, Katherine was in a Hopkins lab, researching new ways to save lives and learning the importance of self-reliance in research.
In a forthcoming Jhpiego blog post, she chronicles her final few hours with the team before her internship ended—a last-minute effort to solve a vexing materials problem. “Even in my last hours, I was able to use the independence I had been given to creatively find a solution on my own,” she says.
During winter break last year, Katherine joined a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins and Jhpiego in India on a project that allowed her to gather real data to test her hemometer. It was the kind of trip that accomplished just what she had envisioned during January for Jhpiego, bringing together her interests for a cause she strongly believes in. Now in its second year, January for Jhpiego is taking another group of maternal health experts into area girls’ schools to build young women leaders and inspire the next generation of global health innovators and providers.
As part of this expanding initiative, Jhpiego CEO and President Leslie Mancuso will address the National Conference on Girls’ Education in February in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Katherine has been selected as a semi-finalist in Intel’s Science Talent Search—the nation’s most prestigious pre-college science competition—in which she will compete with peers across the country for a top prize of $100,000.
“My time with Jhpiego has changed what engineering means to me. It’s not just math and science; it’s being part of something bigger than yourself…and making life better for other people,” Katherine says.
If you are interested in joining the youth movement for maternal health, please contact Carolyn McKenna, Jhpiego’s Director of Individual Donors, at firstname.lastname@example.org