Christian Stevens ’14 Awarded Watson Fellowship

March 19, 2014

Joint biology and chemistry major Christian Stevens ’14 has been awarded one of this year’s prestigious Watson Fellowships. Forty-three fellows were chosen from more than 700 candidates worldwide.

The Thomas J. Watson Foundation awards the coveted fellowships to a distinguished group of graduating seniors each year, providing each fellow one year of international, independent study in their field through a $28,000 stipend.

Stevens’ ongoing research concentrates on obstacles to disease management in marginalized populations, and will take him to communities in Malawi, China, and the Republic of the Congo to explore doctor-patient dynamics and the possible social impediments preventing such communities from eradicating diseases that are easily controlled in more developed parts of the world. He has been working on HIV gene therapy research in the lab of Karl Haushalter, professor of chemistry and biology, for two years.

A community volunteer concerned with the social impact of HIV, Stevens is particularly interested in the social problems that prevent patients from fully accessing available medical treatment. He proposes to work for nine months with Partners in Hope in the city of Lilongwe in Malawi, a poor African nation with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, all infections which require strict adherence to medication programs for treatment to succeed.

Stevens will spend time with physicians and other health care professionals as well as their patients and community members to gain a better understanding of the factors that affect medication adherence. He hopes to help to create an organization that includes both citizens and health care professionals that will focus on improving health care outcomes for patients in Lilongwe by improving medication adherence. Stevens’ mentor is Steve Smith, a retired professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, who spent more than 30 years helping students reach greater self-awareness and clarity of purpose, much of it through a popular class called “Theories of the Good Life.”

Stevens follows in the footsteps of alumni Dustin Zubke ’13 and Hannah Groshong ’13, both currently carrying out their Watson projects. A brief summary of Stevens’ project can be found below.

The Natural Attorneys of the Poor: Bridges of Trust between Marginalized Communities and Medicine.

Malawi, China, The Republic of the Congo, Russia

In spite of numerous scientific advances in treating diseases like HIV and tuberculosis, they continue to spread and devastate the poorest and most marginalized communities in the world. This discrepancy is often more related to social and cultural obstacles than technical obstacles. In order to investigate the social obstacles to disease management, I will seek to understand the complexities that define relationships between those in need of medical care, and those who provide it. Through the Watson I will gain perspective on the often-overlooked relationships that define health outcomes in the most marginalized communities.