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Apr 21
Student Spotlight: Alex Northrop

Alex Northrop could be known for many things. For example, he is a hard-working, intelligent 4th year participating in both the University Honors Program and the International Affairs Scholars programs. He is also an athlete, having completed his first full marathon in October. He is a world traveler, Public Health major, and self-proclaimed nerd. He hikes, snowboards, and salsa dances. He reads books by favorite authors John Krakauer and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and spends a fair amount of time watching Scrubs. Perhaps most importantly, however, he is known among friends and family for being an avid consumer of ice cream. (Growing up in Lakewood, he is particularly partial to Mitchell's Ice Cream in Cleveland.)

In addition to always seeking out the best tasting ice cream flavors, Northrop is also seeking tangible ways to fulfill the often vague goal of "changing the world." He has determined that public health would be an ideal way for him to achieve this, and he plans to become a doctor. He is particularly interested in studying health on a macroscopic level, looking at how society and the environment affect individual patients. OSU has proven to be a great place for him to study these topics; he particularly enjoys the inclusivity and size of the university, which have allowed him to find his own niche, even within his own major. He also notes that many of the faculty members he has encouraged have inspired him.

As many Honors students would attest, being part of the program is particularly beneficial in that it helps students get to know the faculty more personally. Northrop is grateful for the smaller, more individually-focused honors courses he has been able to take. He considers joining International Affairs Scholars one of the best decisions of his college career, particularly because he had considered becoming an International Studies major before pursuing Public Health. Public Health involves his passion for healthcare and biology, and thanks to Scholars, he does not have to abandon his other interests. In fact, he traveled to Bolivia with many of his fellow Scholars during freshman year, and this experience played a major role in his decision to study abroad in Ecuador later on. Though he has less free time to attend Scholars events now that he is a senior, he has stayed involved by being part of the Leadership Council. He recalls that one of the most successful events they planned was a trip to the Italian Festival last semester.

Northrop is also working on a project that builds upon the research he did in Ecuador. He is examining perceptions of the healthcare system in Cotacachi, Ecuador and has been involved with designing the study, conducting interviews, analyzing data, and writing about the findings. This research is especially challenging because his advisor for the project is based in Ecuador and the writing is in Spanish, but Northrop remains unfazed by these difficulties. He adds that he has learned several skills that are generalizable and important to any research project: scientific methodology, ethics, and respecting other cultures. When he got the opportunity to go to Ecuador, conducting this research was just one facet of an incredible experience. He recalls that his host family felt like a true family by the end of the trip, and interacting with them as well as new friends in Ecuador helped him become more fluent in Spanish. He also had the opportunity to work in a hospital and learn from a doctor he admires greatly. He had time for some hiking (including to Machu Picchu and to the top of a 15,000 foot mountain), surfing, eating, getting lost, watching an active volcano erupt, and fulfilling a long-held dream of exploring the Amazon…meeting some river dolphins in the process. He says, "[Studying abroad] was an amazing way to add perspective and depth to a lot of my public health courses."

Northrop hopes to get his research from Ecuador published in the near future. In the meantime, he is also studying antiretroviral resistance mutations at the Yoder Lab within the Wexner Medical Center. Given this research experience, he is well-suited for his work for the Pure Water Project, a nonprofit organization where he helps with research methodology. The goal of the Pure Water Project is provide data and research skills to organizations that focus on water interventions in developing countries. Access to clean, healthy water is an issue Northrop has been passionate about for a while, and is something he got to look into further during an internship with the CDC. "I worked as part of the Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health (CLEH) program, where we gave presentations, attended seminars on exciting advances in environmental health, and had our own research projects,
he explains. "My project involved a scoping review of waterborne disease outbreaks associated with aging water infrastructure. It may sound a little nerdy, but I loved it." His suggestion to people who share his goals is to do some research on our water infrastructure and contact policymakers about it.

Northrop has also worked as an RA on campus. Despite the difficulties of maintaining a work-life balance while essentially living at work, he views the role as worthwhile for the friendships, diverse perspectives, and sense of community involved. One of his favorite memories of his residents was the time they surprised him on his birthday by presenting him with an Espress-OH muffin with a birthday candle on it, a small but meaningful gesture he will not forget any time soon.

Even after studying abroad, working on two research projects, helping at a nonprofit, completing a project for the CDC, and meeting river dolphins,  there are still more exciting plans in Northrop's future. He plans to receive his MD/MPH, but is first applying for fellowships for a gap year. In his future career, he hopes to combine his interests in infectious diseases and environmental health. Before he journeys to grad school and then to a career, however, he has two important missions left to accomplish at Ohio State: attending a basketball game and finding out what the Columbus ice cream scene has to offer.

by Christina Szuch, H&S Student Staff Writer