CALS faculty to advise three Wisconsin Idea Fellowship undergrad projects

Among the six 2015-2016 Wisconsin Idea Fellowships awarded to UW-Madison undergraduate students, three will be overseen by CALS faculty mentors. The fellowship program, now in its 17th year, supports projects designed to solve problems identified by local or global communities.

All three of the CALS-led projects address issues in Africa. One aims to reduce the prevalence of waterborne disease in South Africa; another will explore insect-eating practices in Zambia to address hunger; and a third will work to empower women and improve sanitation through a soap-making training program in Uganda.

More about each of the projects:

Waterborne Disease Prevention in Kumanzimdaka, South Africa
Faculty Mentor: Michael Bell, Professor in Community & Environmental Sociology
Student: Theo Loo, Microbiology and Global Health

Currently, 40% of South Africa’s population lives in rural areas with little access to clean water, leading to illness and disease. In 2014, Theo and three classmates conducted a rapid health impact assessment that outlined several physical water source protection strategies to prevent waterborne diseases in Kumanzimdaka, South Africa.

This WIF project builds on that assessment with the goal of reducing the prevalence of waterborne diseases in Kumanzimdaka. The project will conduct water testing and water sterilization workshops, establish a community dialogue, and map houses, community centers, livestock feeding pastures and latrines. The project will then produce a recommendation for physical water source protection strategies, and has the potential to lay the groundwork for a systematic approach to reducing waterborne diseases across rural South Africa.

Expanding Entomophagy: Investigating potential barriers to mealworm consumption in Zambia and the United States
Faculty Mentor: Susan Paskewitz, Professor in Entomology
Student: Marjorie Kersten, Community and Environmental Sociology and Global Health

48% of Zambia’s population experienced food insecurity from 2012-2014, with December- March being the particularly difficult “hungry season” between crop production. But protein-rich insects provide a potential solution.

This WIF project will explore existing entomophagy (insect-eating) practices in Zambia through a survey focusing particularly on women, who are typically the primary contributors in developing world food systems. Based on the results, the project will develop complete meal plans that incorporate insects into traditional Zambian food.

The long-term goal of this project is to increase the acceptance and frequency of entomophagy within the Lusaka and Southern Province of Zambia and to improve food security and nutrition.

The Soap Project: Women’s Empowerment & Sanitation in Lweza, Uganda
Faculty Mentor: James Ntambi, Professor in Biochemistry and Nutritional Sciences
Students: Mackenzie Carlson, Gender & Women’s Studies, and Corinne Praska, Genetics

On a previous trip to Lweza, Uganda, Mackenzie and Corinne had the opportunity to develop relationships with the community and learn about its needs. Women, in particular, expressed excitement for obtaining skills to make products that they could then sell to gain independence and economic stability. Local health care providers also expressed the need for better sanitation.

This WIF project aims to tackle both issues by launching a soap-making training program in the village. The project also aims to promote youth development, further educational opportunities and stimulate the local economy. Additionally, the project will develop marketing strategies to build long-term structures for the production and sales of local-made soap.

To read more about the fellowships and the other projects chosen this year, visit

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