CHS Announces 2021 MHIRT Cohort
In early September, the Minority Health International Research Training program finalized its selection of the 2021 cohort. Participants and faculty mentors include senior Biology major Progga Hassan (mentor: Dr. Alvaro Gurovich); senior Clinical Laboratory Sciences major Kelsey Hernandez (mentor: Dr. Julia Lechuga); senior Clinical Laboratory Sciences major Vi Nguyen (mentor: Dr. Thenral Mangadu); senior Public Health major Jose Ramirez (mentor: Dr. Gabriel Ibarra-Mejia); and junior Rehabilitation Sciences major Paola Solanes (mentor: Dr. Gregory Schober).
The MHIRT program, a university-wide initiative administered by the College of Health Sciences, prepares UTEP students across all major health disciplines for an intensive summer research internship at partnering institutions in Central and South America. Prior to the summer internship, all MHIRT trainees participate in numerous activities, including academic preparation in Hispanic health disparities, directed research methods and pre-departure cultural orientation. Upon completion of their MHIRT research projects, all trainees present their work in a public forum. Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MHIRT activities were temporarily suspended.
Students in the 2021 cohort will participate in cultural immersion experiences and research on the UTEP campus under the direction of UTEP CHS faculty while earning college credits, completing foundational courses in both global health and research for health professionals this fall. Pending the ability to travel, the students will be eligible to participate in a paid international research experience during either the spring or summer 2022 semesters.
Dr. Julia Lechuga, associate professor of Public Health Sciences, said that she looks forward to mentoring Kelsey Hernandez and engaging her in key research activities to strengthen her professional skill set.
“The Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Program (MHIRT) has a long history of attracting top undergraduate students majoring in health sciences,” Lechuga said. “Ms. Hernandez will expand her professional development by being immersed in the world of cutting-edge behavioral science research, as she will take part in key research tasks to launch a clinical trial using the innovative Multiphase Optimization Strategy. Ms. Hernandez will assist with the development of the clinical trial protocol, programming and administration of assessments, and analyzing the most recent literature on the topic of viral suppression for people who inject drugs and are living with HIV.”
Dr. Gregory Schober, assistant professor of Rehabilitation Sciences, will engage his student mentee, Paola Solanes, in a similar set of experiences to sharpen her research skills. “My community-based research project analyzes community needs, health disparities, and civic engagement through a representative survey of El Paso County,” he said. “In this project, Paola will gain valuable research skills and awareness of community needs by reviewing past studies, testing and translating survey questions, and developing the IRB protocol.”
MHIRT participant Pragga Hassan said that while she had not met her faculty mentor, Dr. Alvaro Gurovich, prior to beginning her MHIRT experience, she was surprised to learn that he directed the laboratory she had visited several times prior for equipment use as a member of another lab. Hassan will assist Gurovich in a study that focuses on COVID-19 effects on arterial stiffness and vascular aging. She said that she is particularly motivated to work in this area and hopes to be part of the project long-term so that she can see the outcome of the work.
“I want to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected this community and the long-term effects of what it means to be alive after the pandemic,” she said. “The long-term health of the community is unknown, and it’s so vital to be prepared for the unknown consequences of this disease, especially for underserved communities like El Paso with less access to health care.”
MHRIT participant Jose Ramirez said that he is also motivated to pursue research in health inequities among minority populations, specifically as it pertains to health and education.
“I hope to learn how to properly and effectively conduct research, as well as gain insight on specific ways to help those from underserved and underprivileged backgrounds,” he said. “I’d like to have the opportunity to participate in more research in the future to make as great of an impact as I can to benefit all who need it.”
Fellow MHIRT participant Vi Nguyen echoed Ramirez’s sentiments regarding using research to serve the underserved, adding that as a member of an underserved group, she was particularly motivated to help others. Nguyen’s research interests, much like her mentor, Dr. Thenral Mangadu, focus on global health disparities.
“One of my goals in life is to help improve standards of living for the underserved and to implement better policies on global health, whether in attempting to find a better treatment for a disease or to find a better understanding of how an illness affects different populations of people,” Nguyen said. “Any research that is conducted within this field will benefit others in numerous ways.”
For more information on the MHIRT Program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/mhirt.