Seniors win Labouisse Prize for projects in South Africa and Sierra Leone
By Michael Hotchkiss, Office of Communications
Two Princeton University seniors have been awarded the Henry Richardson Labouisse '26 Prize to spend one year pursuing international civic engagement projects after graduation. The $30,000 prize will support a project by Diane Jeon in South Africa and Storm Portner in Sierra Leone.
The award to Jeon will aid her efforts to identify and respond to needs and perceptions surrounding the use of contraceptives in the Zithulele community of South Africa's Eastern Cape Province. Portner's award will assist him in developing a maternal-health coordination center in eastern Sierra Leone and will build on the efforts of other Princetonians in the region.
The Labouisse Prize enables graduating seniors to engage in a project that exemplifies the life and work of Henry Richardson Labouisse, a 1926 Princeton graduate who was a diplomat, international public servant and champion for the causes of international justice and international development. The prize was established in 1984 by Labouisse's daughter and son-in-law, Anne and Martin Peretz, and is administered by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Jeon, of San Diego, Calif., is a molecular biology major who is also pursuing a certificate in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She first visited Zithulele during the summer of 2012 to research early childhood education and prenatal care as a participant in Princeton's International Internship Program.
"The conversations that I shared and the stories that I witnessed illuminated my perspective of global health and health policy, and the questions I began to ask about community health in a developing country have motivated my interests in both molecular biology and public policy at Princeton," Jeon said.
In Zithulele, Jeon will interview women, their partners and families, health care providers and community leaders to learn how contraception is viewed and utilized. Then, in coordination with nongovernmental groups and health care providers, she plans to design and begin to implement programs based on her research findings to promote awareness and access to contraception.
"I have felt compelled to return to Zithulele from the moment that I left in order to better understand, and in some small way contribute to, a specific community. I would also like to gain insights more broadly applicable to global health and women's rights," she said.
Andrea Graham, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said Jeon's project is a "terrific match for her skills and experience in both research and communication."
"I am certain that Diane will admirably represent international ideals of honor, respect and understanding, thanks to her wise and humble demeanor, her skills at integrative thinking and her engaging manner of interacting with others," said Graham, whom Jeon credits with helping her better understand the science underlying patterns of infection and immunology.
Jeon said she is honored to receive the Labouisse Prize.
"It is an incredible privilege to go back to South Africa and work with a community that I have learned to care about deeply," she said. "I am also excited to start preparing for what I envision will be a fruitful, challenging and humbling year."
Outside of class, Jeon has been involved extensively in music and community volunteering: she takes violin lessons and has served as a project coordinator for Loaves and Fishes, a PACE Center homeless kitchen initiative, and as a small group leader with Manna Christian Fellowship. Motivated by the tuberculosis and HIV that she observed in South Africa, she interned last summer through the Princeton Internships in Civic Service program at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program to research the epidemiology of these infectious diseases.
Jeon plans to attend medical school and continue to research and write about the health of underserved populations, including women in developing countries as well as homeless and immigrant populations in the United States.
Portner, of Shamong, N.J., is an anthropology major and is pursuing a certificate in global health and health policy. He got an introduction to the Wellbody Alliance's efforts to improving care for pregnant women and their children in Sierra Leone's Kono District when he spent two months as an intern with the nonprofit group in the summer of 2013.
Wellbody Alliance — a public health care and social justice nonprofit co-founded by physicians Daniel Kelly, a member of Princeton's Class of 2003, and Bailor Barrie — is developing a delivery center and obstetrics clinical training site designed to improve maternal health care in the Kono District, which has high rates of mortality for young children and women in childbirth.
"I am tremendously excited to return to Sierra Leone and assist Wellbody during this period of development," Portner said. "With the Labouisse fellowship I will expand my knowledge of public health programming and delivery, and gain experience in the challenge of connecting impoverished populations to health care."
Portner plans to build on the efforts of 2013 Labouisse Prize winners Shirley Gao and Raphael Frankfurter by expanding a coordination center designed to improve the breadth and quality of care provided to women and their young children.
"My focus on monitoring and evaluating extended postnatal care, supplementary feeding, emergency capabilities, and integrative electronic record-keeping will ensure that mothers are delivering in safer environments and have access to necessary and crucial health resources for themselves and their children," Portner said.
Peter Locke, a lecturer in anthropology, mentored Portner in ethnographic field research conducted for Portner's senior thesis. Portner studied a tuberculosis screening and treatment program in Sierra Leone.
"He gained a deep sense of the human dimensions of data and of what is missing from reigning approaches in international public health," Locke said. "This capacity will serve him well — and set him apart — both in carrying out his Labouisse projects and in becoming a leader in the study and practice of global health in the future."
Portner has been a freshman premed mentor through the Princeton Premedical Society and a member of the junior varsity tennis team. He is a certified emergency medical technician and a member of the Shamong Township Emergency Medical Service.
Portner plans to attend medical school, with the goal of becoming a clinical physician practicing international medicine.
Photos by Denise Applewhite: From top, Diane Jeon; Storm Porter