A University program is grounding students in current health issues — and putting them on the ground overseas to turn their knowledge into practice.

For two years, Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute has been training graduateand undergraduate students in how to tackle pressing public health issues abroad through its student fellows program, director Jeannie Mantopoulos said Thursday. The Institute, which works to develop worldwide health systems, sends four student fellows to Africa each year for 10weeks during the summer.

While abroad, the fellows help create plans to combat health problems in one of the program’s five affiliated countries: Ethiopia, Liberia, Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa. This year’s student fellows were Eleanor Hayes-Larson ’11, Ryan Park ’12 and Rebecca Distler ’12.

“The [program] is a unique opportunity for students to work with senior-level health practitioners,” Mantopoulos said. “It’s a source of global health exposure.”

This year, Park said he helped train hospital managers and workers in South Africa. Hayes-Larson said she interviewed researchers in Rwanda and worked to establish better methods for studying diseases there. Meanwhile in Ghana, Distler focused on mental health education.

“I wrote an in-service training manual on mental health for community health workers and worked alongside psychologists to create a qualitycare checklist for the provision of mental health care,” Distler said.

Though the fellowship program that enabled these projects has only been an official Global Health Leadership Institute project since 2009, Mantopoulos said the trips began two years before that. At that time, she said, student “ambassadors” began informally joining in with Global Health Leadership Institute groups when they traveled abroad to affiliated nations.

Now that the program is official, student fellows begin working with the Institute long before they actually leave for their time abroad,Rosalind D’Eugenio, the Institute’s communications director, said. The fellows applied to the program and were selected from a pool of around 25.

Student fellows then become part of a Global Health Leadership Institute delegation for one of the five affiliated countries. They develop specific skill sets depending on the area with which they will be working: this year’s student fellows said they were trained on issues ranging from counseling to prenatal care to hygiene education.After deciding on their delegation’s focus, student fellows attend an annual conference at Yale hosted by the Global Health Leadership Institute, where they receive further training and finalize the plans for their travels, Mantopoulos said.

Looking to the future, Mantopoulos said the Institute is planning on working to keep students interested in the student fellows program.

“We are always looking for ways to expand the program and create new opportunities for students,” she said. “We definitely plan on continuing to hoststudents in upcoming years.”

Students can apply for the program through the School of Public Health, D’Eugenio said. She added that most graduate applicants are working on degrees in public health or medicine, and most undergraduates are enrolled in Health Policy and Administration 592b, “Strategic Thinking in Global Health.”