George Mason University

News at Mason

Student’s research is ‘highly commended’ in international competition

December 1, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Rabail Hussain graduated in May 2017. The biology major did research on maternal mortality rates in Mississippi Delta region. Her research was judged “highly commended” by The Undergraduate Awards, an international competition out of Ireland. Photo by Ron Aira.

For Rabail Hussain, submitting her research paper on maternal mortality rates in the Mississippi Delta region to The Undergraduate Awards was, as she said, “an off-hand kind of thing.”

Her graduation from George Mason University in May with a biology degree was coming up, and she was looking for a job. The submission was forgotten. So when she received an email during the summer that said her paper was judged as “highly commended,” it was a shock.

“Amazing,” Hussain said. “It was not expected at all.”

Expected or not, the distinction is significant, said Bethany Usher, George Mason’s associate provost for undergraduate education, as The Undergraduate Awards, based in Ireland, received a record 6,432 submissions from 299 institutions in 47 countries in 2017. Twenty submissions were named winners, 659 were highly commended.

“It’s a competition of the best student research,” Usher said. “It’s a big deal, big internationally.”

Of Hussain, she said, “She’s curious. She works hard and asks really good questions, and from more than one perspective. That sets her apart from other students.”

Using data from the World Health Organization and medical journals such as the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, Hussain found that the Mississippi Delta region has a maternal mortality rate of 18.5 per 100,000 live births, much higher than the 13.1 rate of non-Delta counties reported by the Southern Medical Journal.

Factors included regional economic conditions, and limited access to medical facilities and specialists, Hussain said.

“I focused primarily on the Mississippi Delta region because it encompassed all the factors I wanted to look at, like racial factors, social factors, regional and economic factors,” Hussain said.

More jarring, Hussain said, was discovering the U.S. maternal mortality rate is much higher than that in other developed countries; a 2015 report by National Public Radio said the U.S. rate is 26.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, the highest by far in the industrialized world.

“I was thinking, ‘This doesn’t happen here,’ ” Hussain said. “We’re such a developed nation you wouldn’t think that was something we would struggle with. We’re really far behind other developed nations.”

Hussain, who is working as an emergency room scribe in a Reston, Va., hospital, and is applying to medical schools, said she caught the research bug after working with Usher on an archeological cemetery project.

“She inspired the love of research in me,” Hussain said. “Because of her, I can’t just sit there and read research. I’m, like, ‘I want to do this.’ ”

“It’s a great school,” she said of Mason. “I was able to get a great education. It provided me everything I needed, a good science department and research opportunities.”