MHIRT Alum on Path to Bright Future in Academia
What sparked your interest in the MHIRT program?
I actually was fascinated by my organic chemistry courses in college and wanted to get involved in research during my sophomore year. I heard about the MHIRT program and I thought it would be a great way to be introduced to research in general and gain analytical research skills. It was also a great avenue for me to be exposed to a different culture.
Tell us about the most interesting experience you had in the program.
The first few weeks before leaving for Ecuador was actually a very interesting experience. We took two short classes that covered Hispanic Health disparities, along with how to use the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) program.
The class taught by Dr. Moya really opened my eyes to the disparities that exist between different socioeconomic areas. One of our assignments was particularly challenging, as we had to take photos in El Paso and relate them to a disparity that existed in the area. Although there are some factors that might seem commonsense for a disparity, the class really made me appreciate the subtle factors that make an impact on a person’s well-being.
Did you learn anything while in your host country that surprised you?
The disparities that I learned about in Dr. Moya’s class became very apparent to me when I traveled to Ecuador, especially since the project I was involved in required us to travel to very low socioeconomic neighborhoods to initiate a diabetic intervention. As a U.S. Latino, I witnessed a distinct yet familiar culture in Ecuador, which made me appreciate the diversity of Latino experience and made me hone my communication methods. Due to certain patients’ inability to read, I was compelled to avoid using standard presentation tools like chalkboards or whiteboards. Instead, I found that oral and pictorial presentations worked best as a teaching strategy; while leading the participants through discussion, rather than through a typical lecture format. By addressing community health with a unique audience, I learned how teaching strategies could be used to suit the specific group that I was working with and saw first-hand how these specific methods could impact the participants’ health.
How do you feel your experience in MHRT prepared you for graduate school?
The most translatable skill that I acquired through MHIRT was developing statistical data management skills, which is crucial in any realm of research. Although the research that I am involved with now is more basic science heavy, the MHIRT experience broadened my abilities as both a scholar and a scientist. Additionally, the fact that I was also exposed to working with a research team from another country also helped me appreciate and learn how to work with a different group of people. Currently, I am part of a research laboratory in which the majority of the group come from outside the United States so in that sense I feel that I really benefitted from my experience in Ecuador.
What are your future career aspirations?
After finishing my studies in graduate school, I plan to apply for post-doctoral training at a different institution. Ultimately, I want to become a professor and work for a primarily undergraduate institution with the end goal of increasing access to underrepresented students in the sciences.
What advice would you give to a student thinking about applying for MHIRT?
My advice would be to not be afraid of applying and of the challenge, because there is a team of amazing faculty that prepare you for traveling outside of the country. The program offers a learning experience that comes with not only academic fruits, but also and more importantly, promotion of personal growth if you fully immerse yourself in it. Don’t be shy about applying for it - this is one experience that you don’t want to miss!