Penn State Berks alumna Launick Saint-Fort recently received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to Luxembourg in Public Health from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Saint-Fort will conduct research at both the Luxembourg Institute of Health and the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg as part of a project to research “The Impact of Immigration on the State of Tobacco in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg.”
The research project will examine the impact of immigration on the state of tobacco in Luxembourg. Saint-Fort chose Luxembourg for this particular project due to its high immigrant population (nearly half of the population) and high prevalence of smoking. According to The Tobacco Atlas, 26% of men and 21% of women smoke. Luxembourg is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and compared to other high ranking human development index (HDI) countries, more children (10-14 years old) smoke cigarettes.
“The cultural diversity and the significance of immigration to Luxembourg’s history make Luxembourg an interesting place to study how immigration influences population health. The correlations between immigration status and tobacco use behaviors has yet to be studied within the Luxembourg population.,” Saint-Fort explains.
The grant period will be from September 2018 to June 2019. Saint-Fort is one of more than 1,900 U.S. citizens who will conduct research, teach English, and provide expertise abroad for the 2018-2019 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
Saint-Fort, a native of Haiti, came to the United States when she was just eleven-year-old with her family. She earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Penn State Berks in 2016 and was a Penn State Schreyer Scholar.
She explained that education was always a high priority for her and her family. “When you grow up in a place that is so poor, education is seen as the most probable escape from destitution. Most parents will do whatever they can to make sure their children get an education. For most, the dream is to come to America and get an education here.”
She added that she chose Penn State because of its international reputation for academic excellence, as well as its smaller class sizes and the opportunity to have closer relationships with her professors.
After graduation, she began a 14-month, fully-funded Fellowship as an NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program Scholar (UGSP) at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where she initially investigated parasitic diseases. She explains that she was interested in working at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to gain more insight on the role of micro-organisms in infectious diseases, in particular, because Haiti experienced a cholera outbreak following the 2010 earthquake that took approximately 250,000 lives.
During her time at the NIH, Saint-Fort began to experience symptoms related to a heart condition. She stated that the medical condition actually turned out to be a great opportunity to reflect on her goals and decide how she would like to move forward in her career.
In fact, Saint-Fort contributed a chapter on her illness to a book edited by Dr. Kesha Morant Williams, associate professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at Penn State Berks. The chapter was titled “An Unexpected Road to Discovery: Finding One’s Self in the Midst of Uncertainty” in the book titled, Reifying Women’s Experiences with Invisible Illness: Illusions, Delusions, Reality.
Her UGSP program director at the NIH was supportive and helped her to find a different laboratory that would allow for flexibility around her illness and newfound interests in behavioral medicine and public health.
Currently, Saint-Fort is a post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Awardee (IRTA) at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities where she studies the effects of immigration status and perceived discrimination on tobacco use behaviors among the U.S. Black population.
When the Fulbright Research Award comes to an end, Saint-Fort stated that she plans to apply to medical school. “I am hoping to expand my knowledge on how culture influences behavioral health in hopes of becoming a culturally sensitive physician in the future,” she explains.
Saint-Fort credits her former Schreyer Honors adviser Dr. Sandy Feinstein, her academic advisor Dr. David Aurentz, and her research mentor Dr. James Karlinsey for their unwavering support at Penn State Berks and throughout the Fulbright application process.