An Interview with Growth Through Nutrition Small Grant Awardee - Arefayne Alenko

Growth Through Nutrition sponsors local researchers in the field of nutrition through its Small Grants Program managed by Tufts University. From a group of candidates who submitted an array of research topics, a team evaluated and ranked the applications using the learning agenda priority themes criteria. Following a review of their applications and an interview, two finalists were selected to participate in the grant based on the relevance of research question, the feasibility of study given time and financial constraints and the qualifications of the research team. Below is an account of Arefayne Alenko, a Small Grant winner who shared his experience as a grantee with us.

A conversation with Arefayne

Small Grants Winner Arefayne Alenko

Who is Arefayne?

Arefayne Alenko is a lecturer at Jimma University Department of Psychiatry as well as a clinician in Jimma Medical Center Psychiatric Clinic and is currently enrolled in a joint PhD program at Jimma University and the University of Ghent. As a Clinical Nursing BSc and Integrated Clinical and Community Health MSc holder from Hawassa and Jimma University respectively, he served as a nurse in a remote health center in the Ethiopian Somali regional state before engaging in both classroom and clinical teaching in undergraduate and postgraduate programs at Jimma University and other neighboring universities.


Why the the Growth through Nutrition Small grants program?

“During my stay at Jimma University” explains Arefayne, “I observed a gap in instructors’ implementation of proper pedagogic skills during the teaching-learning process to maximize student learning, despite regular teaching skill trainings such as the ‘Effective Teaching Skill training’ and higher diploma programs.” Effective Teaching Skill (ETS) training was offered at higher public institutions of Ethiopia by Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics (JHPIEGO). However, the effect of the pedagogical skill training on implementation and sustainability had not yet been studied.  

Arefayne felt a sense of responsibility to find solutions to threats to the quality of education, raising questions such as “Can effective teaching skill training improve instructors’ application of proper pedagogic skills at higher education institutions?” and “What are the barriers or major challenges to apply effective teaching skills for teaching and maximizing student learning? Arefayne was excited to apply to the Growth through Nutrition’s Small Grants Program in hopes of receiving support to conduct research that answered these questions in depth.

One of Growth through Nutrition’s targeted immediate results is to strengthen muti-sectorial capacity, including supporting the major educational institutions that train and prepare Ethiopia’s health, agriculture and WASH workforce, which are essential for driving the national nutrition agenda forward. In line with this key project area, Arefayne was selected as one of two finalists to participate in Growth through Nutrition’s Small Grants program and receive funding for his proposed research study.

Successes and Challenges

I am satisfied with the program and pleased with the support that I received from Tufts University which increased my capacity and commitment to conduct this research,” says Arefayne, who is currently refining the study’s final research report.

“I hope this research will provide additional evidence for the importance of Effective Teaching Skill training and bring attention to barriers to applying proper pedagogic skills at higher education institutions of Ethiopia” he said. He also noted that the study findings demonstrated that ETS training has significantly improved instructors’ application of proper pedagogic skills at higher public institutions in Ethiopia and thus recommends the provision of such training for instructors, as early as possible. The study also identified challenges that hinder the application of proper pedagogic skills and maximizing student learning, which should be resolved in order to maximize student learning specifically and improve education quality in general.

As with the research community and the world at large, Arefayne’s work was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the related closure of schools. Undeterred, he overcame the first challenge by following COVID-19 prevention measures and collecting only quantitative data. Additionally, he made use of technology – social networking and messaging apps – to reach out to students and teachers and collect study data.


One finding from the study on student perceptions found that most students disagree about their instructors’ implementation of effective teaching skills during the teaching-learning process according to Arefayne. Therefore, further research to further explore this context is recommended for future researchers.

“For future grants” he says “I would like to recommend more team opportunities and funding, like the Growth through Nutrition program, especially for MSc and Ph.D. students, and support in disseminating research findings in different seminars, workshops, and publications.”

Overall, Arefayne is happy with the Small Grants program experience stating, “First, this study boosts my confidence and commitment to apply for an external research grant. Second, this study had shown future research direction regarding the higher education system and education quality improvement projects.”


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