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Alexander Wildlife Health Lab at Virginia Tech


Experiential Learning Opportunity for American Minorities

The Program

The Alexander Wildlife Health Laboratory at Virginia Tech and CARACAL Study Abroad is a unique National Science Foundation-funded experience for high school juniors and seniors from American minority communities currently under-represented in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. 

Increasingly, we are seeing the importance of having a diverse workforce capable of engaging scientific challenges that occur at a global scale, but also have important impacts on the national, regional, and even local scale within the United States. This is particularly true for emerging infectious diseases, the threat of which was exemplified by the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa.


Education and career choices, however, are borne from exposure – you cannot dream about being something you have never seen. We need leaders for tomorrow who understand the needs and challenges of working in the biological sciences in developing nations. To be successful, they will need to know how to engage in divergent cultures and priorities to bring locally relevant and sustainable solutions. American minority students are underrepresented in the biological sciences. However, there is an even larger gap in the international sector. For this reason, we aim to make the way for a future led by Americans of all colors and creeds with experience in the international arena.

In 2016 Dr. Alexander obtained a grant from the National Science Foundation and began to employ her hypothesis by bringing two biracial, African American college students to Botswana to work with the minority locals employed and volunteering with the Chobe Research Center.


In Botswana, there are many different ethnic tribes. Similar to in America, minority ethnic tribes experience a lack of role models they can identify with and occasionally experience mistreatment or judgment on the basis of their ethnic background. It is our goal that students selected for our program will not only see a brighter future for themselves but the local minority individuals in Botswana will see these students and also a brighter future for themselves.


















Madalyn Fox was the first to travel to Botswana under this program in 2016. Madalyn worked with minorities within the lab and the community. The program showed great success after one summer. That following year, 2017, Michelle "Max" Wright traveled to Kasane and performed similar work. 


2018 began the planning process for bringing over high school students. In July 2019 we brought over 5 students between the ages of 16-18 from (or affiliated with) Louisa County High School in Louisa, Virginia. 


Additionally one educator from Louisa County High School or a practicing educator that is affiliated with                              Louisa County High School (Children, Nieces, Nephews of  Louisa County High School Employees or Alumni as well as Alumni) will also be selected to travel with the students and experience everything the students will experience.

In Botswana the students will be working with their coordinator, Madalyn Fox, and  variety of undergraduate, graduate and PhD students from Virginia Tech. Additionally students will work with our highly trained and educated professionals, Dr. Alexander, Dr. Vandewalle, Dr. Lena Patiño, and Dr. Sanderson.

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Dr. Kathleen Alexander, PhD, DVM


Madalyn Fox

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Dr. Claire Sanderson, PhD


Dr. Lena Patiño-Westermann, DVM

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Students will learn...

Student learning will be split into two realms of exploration. There will be an ecosystem health aspect and a community outreach portion.


Ecosystem health will include:

  1. Fieldwork – students will radio track and collect behavioral data on relevant wildlife. Our most common worked with animal is banded mongoose.

    • Animal behavior: The students will learn about the interaction between social species and how that effects disease presence, transmission, and mutation. 

    • Allee Effects: essentially looking at correlations between population size and individual health within a population.

    • Sample Collection: Students will be able to observe
      and participate in sample collection from marked

    • Wildlife Ecology: Students and the teacher will spend one day working with our wildlife ecologist (Lauren Sadowski and Dr. Patiño-Westermann) learning to evaluate foot prints from various wildlife species and the manner that this information can be utilized to evaluate interspecies interactions.

  2. Lab work - After working to collect data, be it
    behavioral or physical, students will have the
    opportunity to learn about and work with the analyzation
    process of data. Essentially using that data to acquire
    information about the species.​​

  3. Modeling - The students will explore various agent based
    modeling platforms under supervision of
    Dr. Alexander, graduate students, and their selected 
    high school teacher.

    • ​Agent-based modeling is the creation of computer
      depicting the interaction between entities
      and agents and their effect on the system as a whole.

Community Outreach will include:

  1. Understanding New Cultures -  Students and their teacher will be introduced to local leadership (chiefs) and Dr. Alexander will discuss research in developing nations and the need to work closely with local authorities and government.

  2. Working with Primary School Students - In order to complete their project, the students and teacher will also spend some time with the Botswana Youth Council learning about the program they have there, and talking with members to understand what it means to be a minority ethnic group in Botswana and the challenges associated.

    • Nearing the conclusion of the trip, the students will visit the Botswana Youth Council again to discuss what they have learned.

Project Completion:

Students will be completing a project to show what they learned and the difference this program made in their lives. This project will be a video project. 

  • Madalyn Fox will serve as a minority mentor and supervisor of students.​

  • The students will work with Madalyn Fox and the selected high school teacher to create a video report to show at Louisa County High School, Virginia Tech, and all the Chobe Research Institute/CARACAL websites and social media platforms. The video will cover: 

    1. The nature of their visit

    2. What they learned

    3. The challenges they experienced and overcame

    4. The fun they had!

Who Thrives in Botswana?

People with an adventurous spirit and good street smarts are most likely to do well. If the idea of killing a roach with your flip-flop, or watching others eat caterpillars (a delicacy in Botswana) horrifies you, this may not be the best fit.


You should be able to negotiate both lost luggage and missed flights (without losing your temper). People should be friendly and easy-going. If you can’t imagine a day without Starbucks, or sharing a bathroom with 7 other people, this might not be a good fit. Batswana value respect for elders and superiors, and successful visitors learn how to follow local conventions. Picking up and using a few Setswana word—particularly greetings—goes a long way.

Where are we?

Botswana is a landlocked country directly north of South Africa (See Image 1). The Alexander Wildlab is in partnership with the Centre for Conservation of African Resources Animals, Communities, and Land use (CARACAL). The facilities are located in a town called Kasane (See Image 2) by the northern point of the country near the Chobe River and the Zimbabwe border.


Image 2


Time Frame: July 3-20th, 2019



  • Roundtrip airfare

  • Housing

  • A cook will prepare three meals a day and snacks.

  • Travel Insurance

  • A small stipend to cover park fees.


What you will need:

  • A valid passport book: 

    • Passports can be purchased at your local post office. You will need a certified proof of citizenship; notarized documents are not acceptable. Excluding the cost of a photo, passports currently cost $145. You should apply for your passport no later than April 1, 2019.

    • Please contact your local post office or Madalyn Fox with questions or concerns regarding obtaining or paying for a passport.

  • You should be up to date on routine vaccinations as listed by the CDC.

    • Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, Varicella (Chickenpox), and Polio

  • CDC also recommends maintaining your yearly flu vaccine, as well as obtaining a Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccine.  

    • These Vaccines should all be available at your primary healthcare provider's office​ and eligible for insurance coverage. Additionally Hepatitis A and the Flu Vaccine vaccines are available at CVS and Walgreens.

      • Flu Vaccine: $40.99 
        Hepatitis A: $65.99-$145/dose (2 doses required) dependent on age and location.

        • There is a 6 month period between vaccinations. Therefore if you need a Hepatitis A vaccine you should receive your first vaccine by January 2, 2019. 

    • You may check in with your primary healthcare provider or a travel clinic if you are interested in the typhoid vaccine. ​​

  • A positive attitude!​

If you have any questions or concerns about vaccines please contact your primary healthcare provider. If you have any cost concerns please contact Madalyn Fox.


*** Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, Varicella (Chickenpox), Polio, Hepatitis B, and MMR are required by Virginia State Schools. Hepatitis A is a part of the standard vaccine schedule outlined by the CDC.***

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