In addition to demonstrating curiosity and a commitment to service, Wofford College’s Presidential International Scholars are often heavily focused on the details associated with international travel and scheduling interviews for research.
Margaret Roach ’21, a psychology major with a concentration in medicine and the liberal arts, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had a year like no other Presidential International Scholar. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from traveling internationally to research the integration of traditional medicine with the biomedical approach to treating mental health in India.
“I’ve definitely learned to be flexible and to come up with plan B, C, D and E…I think that’s what I’m on now,” says Roach, who describes herself as having a Type A personality.
Roach will discuss her year as the college’s Presidential International Scholar during a webinar at noon on Thursday, May 13. Register for the event.
She was notified of her selection to be the scholar while in South Africa for study abroad in the spring of 2020, but she knew it would be a challenging year and there possibly wouldn’t be any travel to India. The South Africa experience also was disrupted by the pandemic.
“I grieved the loss of opportunities in South Africa and India, but I coped with the grief and found solutions,” says Roach. “I still had research to do.”
Dr. John Lefebvre, professor of psychology, served as Roach’s faculty adviser and they often talked through her various strategies to adjust.
“I was fortunate enough to travel with Dawna Quick ’04 in 2003 when she was the Presidential International Scholar,” says Lefebvre. “The discussion back then was the stress we placed on the scholars in terms of isolation and the difficulty of travel. These scholars were very resilient to not only complete the program, but to manage all of the demands of travel, research and loneliness.
Fast forward almost 20 years and we have an individual whose resilience is found in how she completed her project with the fact that she could not travel.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 7.5% of India’s population – about 90 million people – suffers from some form of mental disorder and the country does not have enough mental health professionals to support people needing help.
“India is a dichotomy of a lot of advances and yet this issue has not experienced those advances,” says Roach.
Roach’s research explored possible solutions to ensure more people receive treatment for mental illness, barriers to the solutions, task shifting (the process of training primary care professionals or community health workers to assume responsibilities traditionally reserved for specialists) and researchers addressing the issue.
She spent a week in New Mexico during Interim to gain experience in ancient Indian therapies at the Ayurvedic Institute. On a recent morning, she was up at 6 a.m. planning to interview someone in India, but the call had to be rescheduled because her source’s Internet was down.
“Her success as the Presidential International Scholar is that she is one of the hardest working students I have met,” says Lefebvre. “Coupled with her intelligence and internal drive, this work ethic has led to where we are today. Margaret was given this opportunity and there was never a time when she thought she would not complete it.”
After graduation, Roach will enroll at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to pursue a master’s in public health in a program focused on health equity, social justice and human rights.
“My topic of research is important because in the United States and globally, healthcare systems are plagued with injustice and the mental healthcare space is no exception,” says Roach. “Diagnosis and treatments for mental illness as they currently exist in healthcare systems are a privilege rather than a right. Thus, my goal after grad school is to work in the area of mental health equity – increasing availability to diagnosis and treatment for mental disorders to vulnerable individuals who have not historically had access. I hope to spend my career working toward creating equitable, accessible mental health care for all that is culturally suited for the community in which it exists.”