April 23, 2018
These Fulbright scholars are heading to Rwanda together to teach and conduct research. They’re also a couple.
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A year-and-a-half ago, Virginia Commonwealth University journalism professor Karen McIntyre, Ph.D., matched on Tinder with Dennis Hopkinson, a resident at VCU Health, and they have been dating ever since.
Now, completely independent of one another, McIntyre and Hopkinson each has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to teach and conduct research for 10 months in Rwanda.
“It is pretty amazing,” Hopkinson said.
“We feel pretty lucky,” McIntyre added. “What are the odds?”
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors the Fulbright Program, whichawards roughly 1,200 grants to U.S. scholars each year with the goal of increasing mutual understanding between the United States and other countries through the exchange of people, knowledge and skills.
As part of their Fulbright awards, McIntyre and Hopkinson will both teach at the University of Rwanda and live in Kigali, the capital city.
At the University of Rwanda’s School of Journalism and Communication, McIntyre – an assistant professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU – will likely teach a reporting class and possibly one on her main research focus of constructive journalism. It’s an emerging form of journalism that involves applying positive psychology techniques to news work in an effort to produce stories that are more productive.
Hopkinson, who earned his medical degree in Ireland, is in his third and final year of residency at VCU Health. He will teach in the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Rwanda. He expects to teach courses on basic physiology for preclinical medical students, as well as on internal medicine wards in the hospital.
McIntyre first visited Rwanda two years ago as part of a short research trip to interview Rwandan journalists about how the media has helped contribute to the country’s redevelopment since the 1994 genocide.
That experience piqued my interest in applying for a Fulbright there.
“That experience piqued my interest in applying for a Fulbright there,” she said. “And then when I was applying I saw that they had one in medicine too. So then we both applied and [were accepted] but completely independently.”
Also as part of their Fulbrights, McIntyre and Hopkinson have proposed research projects they will undertake while in Rwanda.
McIntyre is planning to study public trust in Rwandan media.
“People tend to trust the media a lot in Rwanda, which is interesting because it’s not really free. Their constitution does say that they have a free press but they are restricted in many ways,” she said. “And so I’m interested to know why people trust the media so much there. And they really have a high level of trust. … I want to dig into that and look at why? And what is the impact?”
Additionally, she plans to research professionalism among Rwandan journalists. “There’s a pretty big divide between journalists who are trained, who went to journalism school, and those who are not,” she said. “They have some ethical issues and there’s a divide of professionalism in the industry.”
She also plans to expand on the research she conducted in Rwanda two years ago, looking at how Rwandan journalists practice constructive or solutions-oriented reporting.
Hopkinson, meanwhile, is planning to research why the care of patients suffers as they transition from admission in the emergency department to their presence on the hospital ward.
“They’re trying to build up that aspect of care,” he said. “They want to kind of build up a pre-admissions unit there. So that’ll involve things like observations and interviewing and helping to develop a process that can hopefully go out to other hospitals in Rwanda.”
He also plans to study medication adherence.
“Why do people not take their meds specifically focused on hypertension, high blood pressure medications?” he said. “Now that a lot of infectious diseases have become better controlled, a lot of chronic illnesses like we see in America – high blood pressure, strokes – have gotten a lot worse and there’s problems with getting these medications to people. [The study will focus] on understanding why people aren’t taking their medications and how can we improve that.”
The couple said they also hope to collaborate on a research project, combining their interests in journalism and health care.
As an overarching goal, McIntyre and Hopkinson say they are looking forward to fulfilling the Fulbright Program’s mission of creating a better understanding between the United States and Rwanda.
“A lot of people, when they hear of Rwanda, they know that there was a genocide there and that’s all they know,” McIntyre said. “But really, Rwanda has experienced a whole lot of progress since then, socially and economically and in lots of different ways. And so I’d like to be able to kind of bring back knowledge about Rwanda that I can help spread to the U.S. and to try to help people have a better understanding of what's going on there.”
Hopkinson added that many of the problems found in Rwandan hospitals are similar to problems found in the U.S., and research into solutions can benefit both countries. “A lot of these findings, they’ll be published in various journals,” he said. “And the findings can be applied to issues here in the United States.”
Looking ahead, McIntyre said she hopes their trip marks the beginning of a relationship between VCU and the University of Rwanda.
“I’d love to start a partnership with the University of Rwanda,” she said. “And then maybe we can do study abroad trips or teach classes in the future to connect the two universities.”
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