WSU student spends summer working with wild animals and fighting infectious diseases in Kenya

This summer, Washington State University student Darya Maysam is joining research projects on antimicrobial resistance, infectious disease surveillance, and epidemiological modeling, while gaining course credit at the same time. 

A person looks down at her hand as a giraffe reaches over a fence and licks food out of it.
Darya Maysam feeds a giraffe in Kenya, where she’s studying abroad this summer.

The WSU junior, who plans to graduate in May 2024 with a degree in Animal Science and a minor in Mathematics, is also taking Swahili language lessons, visiting an elephant orphanage and giraffe research center, and learning about animal herding from the Maasai people.

Maysam is studying abroad in Kenya as part of WSU’s Research Immersion in Nairobi program. The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine created this program to allow students to travel to Kenya and take part in research that studies the effects of rabies, rabies vaccines, and scaling vaccine efforts in remote parts of the world.

Maysam works with two labs at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (UNITID).

Maysam received a Gilman Scholarship, a program that helps Pell Grant-eligible students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, providing them with skills critical to national security and economic prosperity. The scholarship is offered through the U.S. Department of State and pays for nearly all her costs, including tuition and fees, airfare, and room and board while in Kenya.

Other than a trip to Canada, the Tri-Cities native had never really travelled abroad, but she yearned for the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures.

A person holds a small green lizard as it crawls on her hand.
Maysam’s love of animals brought her to study Animal Science, with the goal of attending veterinary school. Her study abroad allows her to meet many different animals.

“I wanted to take my chance to participate in the Research Immersion in Nairobi program while I am physically, mentally, and financially capable,” Maysam said. “I also felt like I should experience life in another country at least once in my life to grow my cultural competency and provide a meaningful memory that I can look back on as time passes.”

The study abroad experience provides Maysam, who plans to apply for veterinary school, with hands-on animal experience and in an international setting.

“I am working closely with Dr. Thumbi Mwangi and his graduate student, Anita, to learn more about neglected tropical disease modeling, management, and policy,” Maysam said.

Those diseases include rabies, cholera, and rift valley fever, among others. She also works in Dr. Sylvia Omulo’s lab, where scientists study antimicrobial drug resistance in hospital and community settings across Kenya. Maysam prepares and incubates samples and performs antibiotic resistance testing, gaining lab experience that will be useful when she applies to vet school and in her future career.

Maysam felt that winning the prestigious award was a long shot.

“What strengthened my application was having clear personal and professional development goals aligned with this program and it being in line with my career path,” she said. “I am grateful that I have the financial means to study abroad, develop skills for my career, immerse myself in Kenyan culture, and show others who may come from underserved communities that they too can do this.”