Flinn Scholar alum Hailey Dickson earns Fulbright for public-health research in India

August 20, 2018

By Matt Ellsworth

By Brian Powell
Flinn Foundation


Hailey Dickson will be traveling to India on her third scholarship award, this time as a Fulbright Scholar conducting field research within the marginalized communities of Mumbai.

The Class of 2014 Flinn Scholar, who graduated in May from the University of Arizona and was honored with the Global Studies Outstanding Senior Award, has already lived and studied in India for about 1 ½ years over two previous visits.

“I am eager to learn more about using research to design needs-based, evidence-based public health and empowerment programs,” Dickson says.” I hope to enter into a graduate degree with a fuller understanding of conducting community-based research, and with fieldwork experience that will connect me more closely to my topics of global health study.”

For the first three months of the Fulbright Scholar Program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and awards about 8,000 grants annually, Dickson will be studying intensive Marathi, the official language of the state of Maharashtra. This will be followed by a nine-month research grant with the Society for Nutrition, Education, and Health Action. Dickson has spent some time in Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, but this will be her first time working and conducting research in the metropolitan area with a population of more than 20 million.

Dickson’s research project, “Assessing Adolescent Attitudes toward Gender, Relationships, and Sexuality in Urban India,” will rely on community focus groups and surveys to better understand teen norms, knowledge, beliefs and practices relating to gender, relationships, sex, and sexual health, Dickson says, which can then be used to design curricula to suit community needs. Specifically, Dickson will be working in Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums.

Dickson’s interest and experience studying public health, with a focus on the health of migrants, led in 2016 to the Boren Scholarship, a Department of Defense award that sends undergraduates to world regions critical to U.S. security interests, where they can study languages less frequently taught in the United States.

Dickson first went to India as part of the Critical Language Scholarship Program, a Department of State overseas language and cultural-immersion program that introduced Dickson to Jaipur in northern India. Dickson says this program solidified her drive to become fluent in Hindi and return to India through the Boren Scholarship.

Beyond interest in language learning, Dickson was drawn to Jaipur to study domestic migration from the country’s rural areas into the fast-growing city—now among India’s dozen largest—which is putting stress on the city’s limited infrastructure. She says examining migrant health in India can provide insights about similar issues faced in Arizona and the United States.

“In our globalized and interconnected world, immigrants blur borders and connect our countries, economies, and health-care systems,” she says. “Better understanding migrant health in India lends me a fuller perspective on these interdependencies.”

Why India?

Dickson’s interest in South Asia started through a global-health program in Nepal she attended the summer before her senior year at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix.

“I just wanted to experience a place both geographically and culturally very far from my own home. That transformative experience solidified my interest in global health and sparked my desire to return to the region,” Dickson says.

Dickson says India is a compelling place to study public health, as within a single city block, you can experience a full spectrum of culture, ranging from ancient to modern.

“I never cease to be amazed by India’s diversity. As a rapidly booming economy rich with ancient cultural heritages, India and its people are full of paradoxes and juxtapositions I find endlessly fascinating,” Dickson says. “This complexity invigorates me and draws me to learn more through my travels.”

At UA, Dickson studied Hindi, the world’s fourth most commonly spoken language, and taught daily Hindi lessons at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, during a summer program.

“Speaking Hindi has allowed me to gain more perspective and feel more closely connected to the communities I have encountered,” Dickson says.

The Flinn Scholarship

Before submitting her Boren Scholarship application, Dickson connected with other Flinn Scholars who had previously been Boren Scholars. Over the past 20 years, Flinn Scholars have been Boren Scholars in Brazil, China, South Africa, Turkey, and several other nations. Dickson says the Flinn community’s support was critical in motivating her to apply.

“The Flinn Scholarship gifted me with the perspective that international travel is hugely valuable, and I am continually inspired by my peers who embody that,” Dickson says.

During her college career, Dickson maintained a packed extracurricular schedule: She was involved with Model United Nations, served as the opinion editorials desk chief for the Daily Wildcat student newspaper, was a health-advocacy intern for International Rescue Committee coordinating health care for refugee and asylee clients, was the vice president and co-founder of the UA Chapter of No Lost Generation, volunteered at Tu Nidito, a nonprofit that provides grief counseling for children, and worked as a research intern with the UA Department of Bioanthropology to study breastfeeding practices in southern Arizona.

Dickson graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in global health and development with a South Asia regional emphasis, a Bachelor of Science in biological anthropology, and a minor in public health.

Her college activities were natural successors to her high-school experiences. Alongside a major commitment to Desert Vista’s marching band and wind ensemble, Dickson volunteered at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and participated in Health Occupations Students of America and her school’s Student Anti-Genocide Coalition. During her summer trip to Nepal, she taught kindergarten children and volunteered at a community hospital.

Twenty Arizona high-school seniors are selected for the Flinn Scholarship each year. The merit-based scholarship, which covers the cost of eight semesters of tuition, fees, housing and meals, and at least two study-abroad experiences, attracts the state’s highest-achieving students who pursue their undergraduate studies at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona.

After the Fulbright Scholarship ends next year, Dickson says she’s planning to pursue a graduate degree in global health. She would like to maintain a focus in South Asia and study migrant health, which is impacting India, the Unites States and places around the world.

“In whatever work I do, I want to have a global impact,” Dickson says.

Learn more about the Flinn Scholars program at www.flinnscholars.org or send questions to flinnscholars@flinn.org.

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