Impactful Scholarship – Interdisciplinary Lead Research Team Presents at APHA’s Latino Caucus
A team of students working under the direction of Dr. Christina Sobin, professor of Public Health, and representing the interdisciplinary Lead Research Team were invited to present in late fall at the American Public Health Association’s Latino Caucus. Team members included Crystal Costa (Master of Public Health Program); Michelle Del Rio (Interdisciplinary Health Sciences PhD Program); Elizabeth Navarro-Alvarado (Master of Public Health Program); Alexander Obeng (Master of Public Health Program); Carlos Chavarria (BS Biology Ecology and Evolution) and Christina Rodriguez (BS Environmental Sciences, Research Assistant).
Abstracts submitted by Costa (“Child lead exposure in high-risk Latino neighborhoods on the U.S.-Mexico border”) and Del Rio (“Soil Lead (Pb) Concentration in Historically Contaminated Latino Neighborhoods”) were accepted for roundtable presentation at the Caucus. Student team members, as well as faculty from the environmental and public health sciences, served as co-authors.
The 2019 meeting was Del Rio’s second APHA event and Costa’s first. Both students indicated that attending the event and interacting with other professionals at the Caucus has allowed them to gain a better understanding of the bigger-picture healthcare issues facing the Latino community.
“While the Latino population is growing, it is still underrepresented in research and clinical practice. While there have been good efforts to close this gap, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Del Rio. “Our cultural and genetic differences make us experience illnesses and treatments differently, calling for more culturally relevant strategies to address health for Latinos.”
Costa agreed, adding, “Participating in this event allowed me to attend sessions where I learned about similar and uncommon issues afflicting other Latino communities in the U.S. It also allowed me to interact and exchange ideas with an array of health professionals who are doing very important work with Latino communities.”
This year’s Caucus covered a wide range of topics, including chronic and communicable diseases, mental health, environmental hazards, and special issues migrant workers face due to immigration status, among others. Costa, Del Rio and team members Obeng, Chavarria, Navarro-Alvarado and Rodriguez were invited to participate in the Environmental Section. Under Sobin’s direction, the team is looking at strategies to mitigate childhood lead poisoning by concurrently addressing three problematic areas, including: screening high-risk children, i.e. children from low-socioeconomic statuses and minority communities; finding and mitigating lead sources (low-cost and effective interventions); and monitoring children over time to determine their risk exposure (at different ages and times).
Del Rio and Costa explained how working in the interdisciplinary Lead Research Team is preparing them for their future careers.
“Working with an interdisciplinary group has taught me to work closely with my team members because it truly takes everyone’s input and hard work to accomplish what we do, and to do it effectively and efficiently,” said Costa.
Del Rio agreed, adding, “Our team includes clinicians, environmental and health scientists, and students from different majors, including electrical engineering, biology, microbiology, and environmental sciences. Our unique expertise allows us to understand the different layers of the problem (of lead exposure) and come up with solutions that target each layer.”
Del Rio’s and Costa’s experiences at the Caucus have helped both students fine-tune their soft skills, and both foresee a future working with professionals similar to those they met at the meeting.
“This experience has helped me become a better writer, improved my public speaking skills, and taught me to network with professionals in the field of public health and other areas,” said Costa. “I plan to continue working with underserved populations and to collaborate with other like-minded professionals in an effort to improve health outcomes for those populations.”
Del Rio’s experience inspired her to continue participating in monthly call meetings with the APHA Environmental Section. As for the immediate future, she says that she received suggestions from other professionals at APHA that she can apply in her own dissertation project, as well as ideas for future research projects after she graduates.