Sindhu Ravishankar, a senior majoring in biology and international studies, is getting ready to spend nine weeks in Cape Town to do some advanced research about the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
It is, by any account, an amazing opportunity for an undergraduate student. And it may not have happened without the help of Dr. George T. Barthalmus.
Barthalmus, the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at NC State, passed away this week. His colleagues and former students remembered Barthalmus, who taught biology and zoology for years before becoming an administrator, for his passion for creating research opportunities for undergraduate students.
Dr. Anita Flick, director of the Health Professions Advising Center at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said Ravishankar’s trip is an example of the impact Barthalmus had at NC State.
“He made it possible for her,” said Flick, who is a faculty mentor for Ravishankar’s project. “He was always the one who gave the right amount of encouragement.”
Barthalmus helped Ravishankar by offering her some early encouragement before her idea was fully formed, and then coming up with $6,000 to fund her project after being dazzled by Ravishankar’s proposal. Flick said she has seen research proposals by graduate students that were not as well done, and that the research is “beyond ambitious” for an undergraduate student.
“Dr. Barthalmus was very instrumental in providing so much encouragement to me,” Ravishankar said. “He transformed it from being an idea to being a reality.”
Ravishanker, a Caldwell Fellow from Cary, plans to conduct interviews with individuals and in focus groups to explore the basis for various social stigma in South Africa that prevent people with HIV/AIDS from seeking treatment or trying to hide that they are getting treatment.
“I’m trying to see what are the underlying causes of that social stigma, how that stigma comes about,” said Ravishankar, who will be working in partnership with the University of Cape Town.
Ravishanker said Barthalmus did more than arrange for most of the funding for her project. “He was extremely motivating,” she said. “He would tell me, ‘I know you’re going to do great things.’ He provided a lot of support, emotionally and financially.”
Dr. Janice Odom, who runs the Caldwell Program, said she frequently sent Caldwell Fellows to talk with Barthalmus about research projects.
“I just knew that they would be taken care of,” Odom said.
The Caldwell Fellows program, which is also providing some funding for Ravishankar’s project, is an intensive leadership-development scholarship program that was created by the Alumni Association to honor the legacy of Chancellor John T. Caldwell.