Students Travel to Nicaragua to Study Maternal Health

Miranda and Kelsey utilized the Student Faculty Collaborative Research Fund to conduct research in Nicaragua.
A casa materna in La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

The end of Kelsey Arends’ semester abroad in Nicaragua last year was really only the beginning.

She was intrigued by the country’s decreasing maternal mortality rate, and she wanted to know more.

The only way to do that was to return to Nicaragua.

When Arends, a senior political science and Spanish major from Lincoln, returned to Nebraska Wesleyan’s campus, she soon met with Miranda Baxter, a senior political science and psychology major from Grand Island and political science professor Bob Oberst who encouraged them to apply for the Student Faculty Collaborative Research Grant. The grant provides funds for professors and students to conduct research together.

The grant made it possible for Arends and Baxter to return to Nicaragua.

With some help from their professors, Arends and Baxter designed their own project focusing on women’s maternal health clinics and the contributions being made toward decreasing infant and maternal mortality rates.

“Dr. Oberst provided a lot of support about logistical things I would have to do when we traveled to Nicaragua to do research,” said Arenda. “I really got to design the project.”

Baxter planned to focus on the psychological aspects of the women’s clinics while Arends would focus on the educational services and materials provided to mothers.

Together they visited a variety of clinics — or casas as they are called in Nicaragua. The casas provide a place for young pregnant women to stay in the weeks leading up to the due dates. Arends and Baxter visited private and government-run clinics. They interviewed staff about their particular services, conditions, funding, challenges, successes and opportunities.

“The clinics all wanted to grow in the services they provided,” said Arends.

Their interviews and data confirmed that the services provided to women who might not otherwise have adequate healthcare were playing an important role in decreasing the maternal and infant mortality rates.

Their research also provided an opportunity for the two students to reflect on their own lives. While Arends had previously spent a semester in the country, it was Baxter’s first time there.

“It was interesting to see a different area of the world,” said Baxter. “I’ve studied abroad in Europe, and it was interesting to contrast the manifestations of poverty in different areas of the world.”

Arends and Baxter will submit their finalized research to the clinics they visited, emphasizing the important role those clinics play in Nicaraguan healthcare.

Arends and Baxter shared their findings at Nebraska Wesleyan's annual Student Symposium: Celebrating Research and Creative Endeavor. The symposium featured an entire day of more than 250 student presentations and performances.Beyond the symposium and their upcoming graduations, their research in Nicaragua provided the experience needed as they pursue careers in policy and research.