Anissa Vitela and Hope Corkill, both juniors at Harlingen School of Health Professions, presented their research projects on obesity and its complications at the Regional Academic Health Center Auditorium on July 28 as part of the Rio Grande Valley Summer Science Internship Program.
The six-week program gives sophomore and junior high-school students one-on-one mentorship opportunities as well as real-world experience working alongside university-based researchers.
“We want our students, particularly Hispanic students, to study Hispanic research issues,” said Dr. Belinda Reininger, program director and professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science at the University of Texas School of Public Health. “We need that insight and leadership from our community.”
Only 10 students from across the RGV were selected to participate. Completing 20 hours of science-related work per week, students sifted through the data in preparation for the culminating event at the RAHC.
Vitela’s study, “Abdominal Obesity and its Complications in Hispanic Adults in Cameron County, Texas,” looked at the abdominal obesity rates of her recruited participants and how they compared to national rates for the Hispanic population.
“I got to work hands-on with people who are knowledgeable on the subject,” Vitela said. “I have learned a lot about health-related problems and how it is important to try to prevent obesity now that we are young because it can lead to really big problems later on in life.”
Corkill focused on the effects of obesity on children and young adults with her project, “Obesity and its Complications in Children and Young Adults in Cameron County.”
“This internship was super new for me. It was sort of like my first job experience. We got into the community and found the problems,” Corkill said. “Obesity and diabetes are very common here in South Texas and in the Hispanic population. So it is critical to get out and spread awareness.”
Vitela and Corkill are both part of the Patient Care school of study at HSHP and hope to work toward careers in obstetrics and gynecology.
“This program, now in its 11th year, actively engages students in research, and we find that after completing the program students improve their confidence and understanding about what it takes to be a researcher,” said Reininger. “And as we follow up with these students, we have seen that many of them are going on to study science.”