Winter 2016 Issue

by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D.

Matt Sammons (’16 DVM) thought he would be working in a lab collecting bacteria samples during his summer research trip to Kisumu, Kenya. Sammons, a Global Animal Health Professional Certificate student in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, works with Dr. Douglas Call to learn how bacteria shared between human and animals might be related to malnutrition in children under five years of age.

“Bacteria provide very real benefits to people,” said Sammons, who explained that we actually have more bacterial cells in our body than human cells. “So maybe decreasing malnutrition is not just about supplying nutrition, but also about improving bacteria in the gut.”

But when he got to Kenya he learned the project’s start day had been pushed back. One piece of advice students get who are interested in international work, said Sammons, is that they need to be adaptable, flexible, and prepared for anything. So what at first might have seemed like a missed opportunity turned out to be an even more valuable experience than he expected.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” said Sammons, who instead of lab work took on an organizational role. He worked with community interviewers and animal health technicians to promote team building and creating a cohesive unit. He also conducted training on how to interview families and to collect samples.

“This was a great opportunity to set the project up for success,” said Sammons.

As the only WSU representative over the summer, Sammons worked with project partners at the University of Washington and the Kenya Medical Research Institute, or KEMRI. In the evenings, when it was morning in Washington State, he would talk with partners at UW and then the next morning report back to his team.

“It was my first taste of a real, large-scale, multi-institutional, multi-national funded project,” said Sammons, who plans to pursue a career in international health research. “It was a fun challenge.”

But Sammons also explains how financial support was key.

“Having that funding is the reason the trip was possible,” said Sammons, who receive funds from the Allen School and two scholarships, the College of Veterinary Medicine Research Scholars Program and the Summer Research Fellowship.

The project is now scheduled to begin data collection within the next month or so. Sammons said he hopes to go back to Kenya to work in the lab or have a Kenyan exchange student come work in the lab at WSU. For him, the summer abroad gave him skills that will help him as a student and after he graduates.

“The skills I gained will be so empowering down the road,” said Sammons.