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Office of the Vice President for Research

Olivia Haley's Magellan Story

Magellan + GLD: Putting Together the Puzzle

Name: Olivia Haley
Hometown: Sumter, SC
Major: Biological Sciences (Class of 2015)
Magellan Programs: Magellan Scholar
Magellan Project: "Assessing Public Health Needs and Developing a Sustainable Water Irrigation System for Organic Coffee Crops in La Victoria, Ecuador"
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jim Burch

Olivia Haley had the pieces. There were her beyond the classroom research experiences, working with plant molecular genetics in a lab and traveling to Ecuador to study community health. There were her classroom experiences from all the courses she was taking as a Biological Sciences major. But she didn't realize those pieces fit together to form a big picture until she completed the Graduation with Leadership Distinction process in the research pathway. "I really had to reflect on my experiences from all of my research projects and write down which pieces of the experiences were the most important in shaping who I am," Olivia said. 

That was when it all clicked: a way to combine her passions for plant science, global health, and helping others. Upon graduating, Olivia enrolled in the Master of Plant Sciences program at McGill University to pursue this dream. "I'm studying the influence on the soil composition on crop plant health. I hope to find a way to increase the yield of major crops simply by supplementing the soil with the appropriate nutrients. This way, I can touch multiple persons on diverse continents."

Olivia had an interest in global health issues but that interest came to life when she traveled to Ecuador as part of her Magellan Scholar project. She was part of a multidisciplinary team that traveled to the town of La Victoria to both construct a water pipeline and to measure the health needs of the local community. The local landscape opened her eyes. "It really opened my mind to the disparity between our two countries. Riding into town, there were so many banana trees and so many coffee plants. It's amazing when you get to see first-hand where your food is coming from. These plants were mere breakfast items but for others it was a lifestyle. Realizing this and the hardships that the farmers face played a huge part in me deciding to continue my studies to find a way to ease the obstacles and hopefully influence the lives of those who produce what we consume."

Being on-site in Ecuador taught Olivia an important lesson about global health work: the aid you provide must be sustainable. "After you complete a project, [it's important that] the community will keep it going," she said. She talked about a free clinic which had been repaired by a previous foreign aid group. "The roof had started to mold and crumble due to the high humidity of the area, and massive spiders had also moved into the roof. Most importantly, we couldn't find the blueprints! So it was difficult for us (not to mention the community) to even get started with the repairs. This turned out to be a perfect example of how poor planning and poor follow-through can endanger not only a project, but your target group as well."

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.