Meet Grand Challenge's Ann Johnson!

November 21, 2016

Atlanta, GA

Ann Johnson is a 3rd year studying biology and anthropology as part of the dual program between Georgia Tech and Emory University. As soon as you talk to Ann it is apparent she is passionate about changing the world of global health.


“Through my Grand Challenges project I learned so much about how important it is to intersect an understanding of humanities and science in order to look at culture and how it impacts people. How people interact with technology and medicine is very important when trying to make a positive impact and true change in public health.”


“It was actually Grand Challenges that helped me to find my passion. I worked on a project my freshman and sophomore year that looked at the ebola epidemic--- I learned that a lot of experts had these great ideas and solutions, but when these solutions were being implemented into the field a lot of the cultural reasoning was lost and wasn’t kept in mind when forming these solutions. It’s so important for these experts to know the background of the people they are working with and to help people help themselves and not just impose solutions.”.


This summer Ann worked with Dr. Brown’s environmental engineering lab in Mozambique on a project called Maputo Sanitation (MapSan). The city of Maputo has one of the largest urban slum areas in the world and lacks proper plumbing and clean water sources. This leads to poor sanitation and an unhealthy environment. MapSan is working to implement improved latrine systems in order to improve child health. The goal of this study is to gauge the impact that latrine systems are having on the health of people being impacted. Ann said she was attracted to this project because it included both quantitative and qualitative results.


“I really liked the idea of studying who is using the latrine, what is the cultural surrounding the latrine, what’s the community buy in, as well as the quantitative research like testing water quality and charting what health issues the children may have. It brings together that anthropology side as well the hard sciences.”


Ann’s personal project was tracking the height and weight of children in the area, however, the traditional method was either bulky or expensive and easily damaged. So Ann decided to get the job done using a modified xbox kinect, an idea inspired by an article about the weight of astronauts in space. Ann explained that she faced many challenges working in a low resource environment, but she was proud of being able to overcome these obstacles and created a device that was essential in her field work.


“I was working on a small project within a very large project, so I was working with graduate students and other researchers, living as well as working with these people, something that Grand Challenges made me very accustomed to. These people are from very different places and we didn’t have a relationship beforehand but we had to just make it work. Because I was in Grand Challenges I knew how to make it work and really leveraged my strengths and weaknesses with this new group of people.”


When asked how the Grand Challenges program shaped her success in the global health world, she replied, “The best thing about Grand Challenges that I was able to, as a freshman, have experiences and opportunities that showed my passion in a concrete form and allowed me to get my first real experience. If you are passionate about something and you can communicate that passion, people are going to want to give you opportunities even if you don’t have the experience. It’s ok if you don’t have that much experience in a certain aspect, don’t be afraid to reach out to professors and professionals that are going to help you pursue that passion. “

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Jennifer Vo