Wake Forest University senior Rebecca E. Cook, who has worked to improve health care for premature babies in Kenya, has been named a Rhodes Scholar.
She is among 32 Americans chosen by the Rhodes Trust Nov. 20 to study at England’s Oxford University in 2005 as Rhodes Scholars. Cook and the other Americans will join additional Rhodes Scholars selected from districts around the world. At Oxford, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in medical anthropology. She is majoring in biology, with a minor in international studies, at Wake Forest.
The daughter of missionaries serving in Kenya, Cook is the ninth Wake Forest student to be named a Rhodes Scholar since 1986. She has spent most of her life in Kijabe, Kenya, where she was born, reared and educated before coming to Wake Forest as a freshman in 2001. At Wake Forest, she is one of the university’s Carswell Scholars.
Her goal is to return to Africa as a primary care physician after completing medical school and training in the United States.
“I am planning on focusing on health care in the developing world,” Cook said. In particular, she is considering practicing medicine in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2003, Cook returned to her native country to conduct research and volunteer at Kijabe Hospital, where she was born. Her mother is a teacher and her father is a superintendent at Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, an interdenominational boarding school in rural Kenya for the children of missionaries serving in Africa.
Wake Forest supported Cook’s Kenyan project through the university’s Pro Humanitate Scholars program, which funds domestic and international projects conducted by Wake Forest students that involve research and service.
In her work at Kijabe Hospital, Cook focused on the biomedical and social factors influencing the health of premature babies born there. Her research was prompted by her concerns about infant mortality in the region. During her research, she interviewed the families of premature babies born in the past couple of years and carefully reviewed the medical charts of the children looking for various trends associated with their health.
Cook also volunteered by assisting hospital medical staff with simple medical procedures, visiting with new mothers, and performing various other functions at the hospital and in remote clinics. She also volunteered at New Life Homes in Nairobi, a facility that serves babies born HIV positive.
“I presented my findings to the pediatric staff and came up with a protocol for follow-up treatment of premature infants,” Cook explained. She focused significantly on steps the hospital could take to better inform mothers on caring effectively for their premature babies. Childcare tips for the mothers were translated into languages of the region and are now distributed to new mothers and made available in rural health clinics.
At Wake Forest, Cook is co-founder and co-president of the Wake Forest Student Global AIDS Campaign. In Winston-Salem, she has been involved with CHANGE (Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment). In particular, she has volunteered with the organization’s health care action and neighborhood action teams.