Emily Mediate: Focused on Africa’s Future
When Emily Mediate ’15 first arrived on campus, she brought a longtime interest in international issues. By the time she left, she had developed a passion for helping Africans fight HIV through targeted interventions.
In between, during an impressive undergraduate career, she dove headfirst into research opportunities, service work, and study abroad. And she also made time for larger conversations with her peers and professors. These deeper discussions enabled her to connect her various interests and develop a larger passion, which has now earned her a spot as Notre Dame’s 17th Rhodes Scholar, and the University’s second in two years.
“To me, the big difference with Notre Dame lies in the community — the professors, the students, the staff,” says Mediate, who will begin her studies at Oxford University in October. “I had the most meaningful moments during office hours, in the dining hall, and late at night in the dorm. These spaces encouraged me to continue what I was learning in classes into other aspects of my life and into my personal development.
“Pushing the boundaries of learning beyond the classroom, beyond campus, and even beyond the US is such an integral part of the university. It was in those moments, in those discussions, that I learned the most over my four years.”
Mediate has long been interested in international affairs. Her father, Bruno Mediate ’89, served in the United States Air Force, and as a child, she spent a great deal of time around missionaries, deepening her awareness of the larger world.
She brought that interest to Notre Dame, where she majored in Africana Studies with a supplementary Pre-Health major and a minor in international development studies.
During her time at Notre Dame, she seized opportunities to study abroad and to conduct research. Both interests came together during a fateful research trip to Uganda, she recalls.
“Once I had visited Uganda, I fell in love with the people and the culture and just kept coming back,” she says. “Working in Uganda allowed me to tangibly see what I had spent so much time studying in the classroom. There's no substitute for the conversations and challenges that arise from living and spending time somewhere, rather than just reading about it.”
As a Kellogg International Scholar, she helped sociology assistant professor Terry McDonnell for three years with research on HIV/AIDS prevention, and she volunteered with a local AIDS ministry group.
“The HIV work really came about just as a natural set of opportunities,” she says. “Volunteering with a local organization in South Bend really humanized the research work for me and I became much more attached to the issue.”
Her experience also taught her the importance of tailoring solutions to each person and each family.
“Working with the community was critical, too, as I realized that a lot of the international interventions had lost the individual focus on the disease,” she says. “This is essentially what I tried to address in my senior thesis — how can we come up with better responses to HIV? How can we fit the response to each individual's need?”
"Once I had visited Uganda, I fell in love with the people and the culture and just kept coming back."
Since graduating last year, Mediate has continued her work to help prevent HIV by working in Kampala, Uganda, as part of a fellowship with Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute. There, she has worked on a project that that emphasizes household-specific interventions tailored around what each individual needs — something her research shows is more effective than traditional HIV prevention efforts.
The news that she had earned a spot as a Rhodes Scholar has reaffirmed Mediate’s determination to continue her work.
“I am thrilled for the experience and for the opportunity to keep studying,” she says. “I hope that the scholarship will allow me to fully internalize their mission of ‘fighting the world's fight.’ My overall goal is to improve the way that the U.S. works with African countries — on everything from health to politics to security. I think my experience at Oxford will give me a new perspective on this and will allow me to make better sense of my year in Uganda this year. I'm also just thrilled to meet the other scholars from the US and around the world.
“Being around other people who are so dedicated to make the world a better place is inspiring, challenging in all the best ways, and exciting. I can only hope Rhodes will be a helpful step towards my goal of improving conditions on the African continent.”