My REAP Story: Ashley Hitchings, Chicago University, '23
My REAP Story: Ashley Hitchings
Photos from the Field
Ashley Hitchings, University of Chicago Class of 2023
Affiliation: University of Chicago
Area of Study: Economics
Q: What did you do while working with REAP?
A: As a summer research intern with REAP, I traveled to Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture to research the intersections of public health and human development. Our team investigated how the spread of parasites in elementary schools can devastate a child’s academic achievement and physical wellness, drawing upon student and teacher interviews and field observations. Finding I deeply resonated with REAP’s ethos of data-driven policy reform, I continued my work by creating communications materials for various initiatives, co-authoring a paper on T. solium transmission in rural schools, and editing child development curriculum for the Healthy Future project.
Q: What are you most proud of regarding your work with REAP?
A: Upon concluding three weeks of extensive field research in China, I presented potential solutions to the public health challenges that faced rural Tibetan elementary schools. Endemic to the region is the pork-based tapeworm, Taenia solium, whose spread can be mitigated by thorough hand-washing. During our school visits and interviews, my team and I observed clogged sinks, younger students struggling to comprehend REAP’s hygiene posters, and teachers rarely enforcing hand-washing routines. In response, we pitched a myriad of solutions, including using sink strainers, crafting new posters based on student feedback, and hosting teacher training sessions on the significance of hand-washing. Several months later, our pilots were actually implemented. Witnessing the research I conducted materialize into tangible outcomes was immensely gratifying.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment from the field?
A: One of my most notable memories from REAP was the exhilarating flurry of investigation and exploration that marked my days in Garze. We spent our days drafting protocols, gathering knowledge from our chats with second-graders and principals alike, and furiously brainstorming school-wide interventions, then piloting them mere days later and watching theory manifest into reality. On our “off day,” we hiked atop misty peaks, stumbling into thousand-year-old ruins and herds upon herds of yaks grazing. It might be premature to call these once-in-a-lifetime experiences, but I can’t imagine when else I’ll enjoy such wondrous and invigorating moments.
Q: How did working with REAP impact your future plans?
A: My belief that economics is a tremendously powerful tool for policy change stems largely from my time working with REAP. It’s this conviction that now drives me to pursue a degree in economics, with the desire to channel that toward improving issues of human rights and global human capital development and wellbeing.