University of Chicago swimmer Yifan Mao has been named a Fulbright Scholar for the fellowship year of 2020-2021, the organization announced on Wednesday.
The Fulbright Program is a United States Cultural Exchange Program that, among other things, provides scholarships for about 2,000 American students annually to research, study, or teach annually for one academic year. The program was funded by the United States Congress after World War 2, using the sale of surplus war property to “fund the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” As part of the program, American students can travel to more than 140 countries worldwide.
Mao will be traveling to do sickle cell disease (SCD) public health research at Lagos Universtiy Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in Nigeria. She’ll also work as a swim instructor at two local swim clubs.
“I am going to be doing sickle cell disease (SCD) public health research at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) in Lagos, Nigeria under Dr. Kalejaiye,” Mao said. “The purpose of my study is to assess patients’ disease management, study healthcare disparities, and identify gaps in public knowledge about SCD that may lead to lower health outcomes (non-compliance to prescribed medications, high frequency of ER visits due to acute manifestations of SCD). I will be doing an educational intervention with patients at the SCD out-patient clinic at LUTH to help improve their knowledge of SCD and hope to improve the aforementioned health outcomes.”
This continues work she has done in Chicago with those suffering from sickle cell disease as part of a mentorship program called STRIVE. As a freshman and sophomore at the University of Chicago, she spent time helping to lead an after-school program for children with sickle cell disease at La Rabida Children’s Hospital. The program helped improve the kids’ health literacy by holding educational discussions on their disease, pain management and advocacy, in addition to helping them with their homework and playing games.
She has also previously been the recipient of a Ted Mullin Fund internship, which is a summer research program that funds research in the Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at UChicago Medicine. During that time, she worked on SCD research.
“I knew I wanted to continue working with sickle cell disease patients, so I chose Nigeria because it has the highest rate of SCD births per year, so I felt like I could make the greatest impact in this country,” Mao said. “Part of Fulbright’s mission is cultural exchange and for the scholars to act as cultural ambassadors, so I’m also very excited to be in Lagos because I’ll be teaching swim lessons. I have gotten in touch with Crawford Swimming and SwimPro Nigeria – two swim clubs in the area that I will be working with as a swim instructor.
“As healthcare accessibility in the U.S. has been an increasingly salient issue, I hope to see how certain strategies used by Nigerian hospitals can lead to positive outcomes despite limited resources, and how they may be applied to areas in the U.S. that are also grappling with healthcare disparities and inequities,” she continued. “I hope to learn more about the complexity of patient care and the effects of healthcare disparities on patient health outcomes. And from teaching swim lessons, I hope to teach water safety and help prevent the high rates of ocean drowning, and, in exchange, to learn Nigerians’ perspectives on teaching.”
At the University of Chicago, Mao was a 4-time member of the UAA All-Academic Team. She earned All-America honors as a freshman as part of Chicago’s 13th-place 200 free relay at the NCAA Division III Natinoal Championship meet. Primarily a sprint freestyler, Mao scored 14 points and swam on 3 of Chicago’s relays at the UAA Championships her senior season. Chicago finished 3rd at that meet behind Emory, the defending NCAA Champions, and New York University.
Swimmers have regularly dotted the rolls of the Fulbright Scholarship program. Last season, Richmond swimmer Emily Landon was among the recipients. Among those non-swimmers who have participated in the program are Bose Corporation founder Amar Bose, actor John Lithgow, composer Philip Glass, opera singer Renee Fleming, former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Ru Paul’s Drag Race season 9 winner Sasha Velour.
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