el faro

Volume 5, Issue 1May 2012

El Faro Staff

Felisa Gonzalez, Ph.D., Co-Editor
Meghan (Garvey) Lally, M.A., Co-Editor
Nicole (Nicky) M. Cano, MPH, Newsletter Coordinator

This Month's Contributors

Judith Arroyo, PhD

Felipe González Castro, PhD

F. Javier Cevallos, PhD

Catherine Denkler

Colleen Farrelly

Ana Hoffenberg, MD, MSPH

Juan Rodriguez

Melissa Torres, MSW

Oscar Torres

Arturo Zavala, PhD

National Steering Committee

Patricia Molina, M.D., Ph.D., NHSN Chair

Hilda Pantin, Ph.D., NHSN Executive Director

Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, M.D., Ph.D.

Margarita Alegría, Ph.D.

James Anthony, Ph.D.

C. Hendricks Brown, Ph.D.

Richard De La Garza, II, Ph.D.

Diana Martínez, M.D.

Maria Elena Medina-Mora, Ph.D.

Guillermo Prado, Ph.D.

José Szapocznik, Ph.D.

Yonette Thomas, Ph.D.

Avelardo Valdez, Ph.D.

Volume 5, Issue 1

New Member Interviews

F. Javier Cevallos, Ph.D., Research Scientist Member

Why did you decide to join the NHSN?
I am quite concerned about the lack of Hispanics in the STEM areas, so I welcome any opportunity to work with a group interested in bringing more Hispanics into Higher Education in general and the sciences in particular.

When and why did you become interested in Hispanic health research?
I am not personally involved in health research.  However, as President of a public, comprehensive university (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania) I am keenly aware of the health issues facing our community.

What is your ultimate dream in terms of your career? Have you already accomplished this?
 I think I am very fortunate to be in the position I have.

Catherine Denkler, Graduate Student Member

Why did you decide to join the NHSN?
Due to my cultural background and the rising Hispanic population in the US, I am passionate about research in health equality for Hispanics.  I believe in the mission of NHSN and the work of NHSN in promoting research and mentoring for graduate students.

When and why did you become interested in Hispanic health research?
While researching at the NIH, I became involved with the Minority Health and Health Disparities Institute.  I attended various seminars listening to research involving health disparities in various populations.  In particular, I was inspired by a talk given by Dr. Mirta Roses Periago on Hispanic health research through PAHO.

Briefly describe your current line of research
I’m currently a first year medical student and still in the process of choosing a mentor and research area.

What is your ultimate dream in terms of your career?  Have you already accomplished this?
My dream career would be to work for the Pan American Health Organization conducting health disparities research.       

What is the most important quality you look for in a mentor?
Empathy.  I desire a mentor that not only challenges me professionally, but also has an appreciation for who I am as an individual.

What is your cultural background and how did it influence your choice of career and/or research area?
As the daughter of a mother born and raised in Bolivia, I was raised in a bicultural environment which has led me to become interested in a public health career serving minorities in medicine.    

What do you do for fun?
I love to cook (when I have the time!).  I also love to dance, watch soccer, and enjoy Miami beaches!

Colleen Farrelly, Graduate Student Member

Why did you decide to join the NHSN?
My faculty mentor, Dr. Prado, encouraged me to apply to the NHSN when I was applying for an NIH internship.

When and why did you become interested in Hispanic health research?
I became involved during my year off between undergraduate studies and medical school while working with Dr. Prado.

Briefly describe your current line of research
My current research focuses on machine learning methods in genetic epidemiology, specifically focusing on addiction and PTSD.

What is your ultimate dream in terms of your career?  Have you already accomplished this?
My ultimate dream would be to better understand, prevent, and treat addiction, PTSD, and other mental health disorders so that fewer people have to struggle with and suffer because of these disorders.

What is the most important quality you look for in a mentor?
I look for someone who is willing to take some risks in research, supportive in my work, and willing to help me work toward attaining my goals and being successful in my research.

What do you do for fun?
I enjoy working out and doing obstacle courses for charity, as well as creating art and writing poetry.

Ana Hoffenberg, M.D., M.S.P.H., Research Scientist Member

Why did you decide to join the NHSN?
My overarching career goal is to become an independent investigator in the field of clinical and epidemiological substance use disorders research. As a member of the NHSN, I will take the opportunity to enhance my research by developing a supportive network. By attending NHSN meetings and conducting my specific research activities, I will have the chance to discuss my findings with peers in the US and from overseas, and hopefully establish collaborations with them.

When and why did you become interested in Hispanic health research?
I had clinical training in Brazil, and then again in the US, when I immigrated. My interest in Hispanic health issues started during my US Pediatrics residency training, during which I could observe my patients’ families’ struggles with anything, from language barriers to social and legal issues. Since I was the only resident who could speak Spanish, I rapidly accrued a large population of patients who were “Spanish-speaking only”.  Possibly because of culturally appropriate care, I established great rapport with these families, and learned a lot about their problems, related to health and otherwise. Later, during my Preventive Medicine training, I delivered health education to recent Hispanic immigrants about injury prevention and environmental hazards, such as lead poisoning. Being able to visit the sometimes derelict places where some of my research participants lived with their families offered me the opportunity to witness how the environment and poverty dictate health. Based on these experiences, I saw the need for clinical and epidemiological research to support interventions and policy.

Briefly describe your current line of research
My research interests are in public health and epidemiology of substance use. I currently conduct research in order to better understand the factors contributing to substance use disorders among adolescents, in the hopes to later support efforts to improve policy and interventions.

What is your ultimate dream in terms of your career?  Have you already accomplished this?
My ultimate dream is to help one patient at a time, and to conduct research that is relevant to their recovery. I believe I accomplish this dream every day. Lucky me!

What is the most important lesson you learned as a graduate student?
If possible, choose a mentor with whom you would have fun to talk during lunch. The fact is, if you cannot stand that person not even for that period of time, this is not someone with whom you’ll enjoy having a relationship of years. Another important lesson is that everything that is important and worthwhile in life takes time and dedication.

What is the most important quality you look for in a mentor?
My dream mentor is an exquisite human being, who is certainly smarter than me. It is a joy to work with him/her, and, because he/she is that special, I feel like walking that extra mile!

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I’ll still be here, seeing patients and conducting research that I find important, and I’ll definitively still have great enjoyment while doing it!

What do you do for fun?
Besides spending time with my boys and husband, I love to travel, especially to warm places with beaches! I also love oil painting, but haven’t had much time for it in a while.

Juan Rodriguez, Graduate Student Member

Why did you decide to join the NHSN?
NHSN member, Ian Mendez suggested joining NHSN to me. I saw it as an opportunity to network with individuals involved in the same areas of research. The organization also focuses on the same population I grew up in, which also happens to be the reason why I wanted to study science.

When and why did you become interested in Hispanic health research?
I grew up in an area of Houston surrounded by people who abused various drugs. These choices ultimately changed their relationships and their lives. I wanted to further understand the scientific consequences of drug use and abuse.

Briefly describe your current line of research
Currently, our lab focuses on the role of ghrelin on the reward pathway through the use pharmacological antagonists and genetic manipulations that prevent the activation of these dopaminergic neurons of the ventral tegmental area through ghrelin receptors. We hypothesize that the deactivation of these receptors will prevent the sensitization phase of a drug habit as well as suppress the maintenance phase and minimize the chance of relapse of drug abuse. We recently published some sensitization data. My current focus on the project is the maintenance phase of cocaine and nicotine abuse using the self-administration paradigm.

What is your ultimate dream in terms of your career?  Have you already accomplished this?
I’d like to teach future generations the scientific reasoning for drug addictive behaviors. I’d like to be able to say that I was a part in solving a large problem that can be found across the globe.

What is the most important lesson you have learned as a graduate student?
When you encounter an issue with your experiment, make sure you evaluate everything down to the physical properties of the materials that make it up.

What is your cultural background and how did it influence your choice of career and/or research area?
I come from a traditional Hispanic family and I am a first generation college student. Following the enrichment of programs like D.A.R.E., I became fully aware of those around me who, by definition, were drug abusers. My father is a recovered alcoholic and it always amazed me to see the habitual behaviors of my loved ones and the resulting changes, both behavioral and physiological, through alcohol and nicotine use. Aside from my experiences at home, there were also individuals around school that I saw become chronic marijuana users and cocaine addicts. Luckily, my father was our role model and the first person to educate us on the various negative consequences of addiction. From that point, I wanted to find out why some individuals engaged in drug use, the dangers associated with chronic use, why individuals fail to quit, and what I could do to help prevent further damage.

What is the most important quality you look for in a mentor?
Aside from the expectancy of a diverse amount of knowledge and skills, somebody who is willing to guide me while also being patient.

What do you do for fun?
I have several hobbies. I paint, shoot for sport, and motorsports. I am also an avid movie watcher and enjoy running and biking when the weather is nice.

Melissa Torres, M.S.W., Graduate Student Member

Why did you decide to join the NHSN?
Both the chair of my dissertation committee and my colleague are members and always share their positive experiences of NHSN with me. The networking, collaborating that is offered with the membership and the innovative research by/with/for Latina/os piqued my interest.
 
When and why did you become interested in Hispanic health research?
I grew up on the Texas/Mexico border and spent a lot of time going back and forth across the Rio Grande. There were a lot of disparities that I assumed were commonplace since I grew up in a pretty homogenous Mexican area – and the poverty on both sides of the border weren’t very different, either. I moved to Houston to attend university and was faced with a truly multicultural experience – speaking both of race/ethnicity and socio-economic status. It opened my eyes to the fact that what I grew up seeing were, in fact, disparities. I also saw that some were preventable; some were much more multi-faceted than I thought, and many were unjust. 
 
Briefly describe your current line of research
I am currently a graduate research assistant at the Center for Drug and Social Policy at the University of Houston where I help with a study on aging Mexican-American injection heroin users. The CDSPR is incredibly supportive and has made the resources available for me to study sex work and sex trafficking factors among this population. My dissertation includes this study and an analysis of state policies affecting international sex trafficking victims that have been rescued along the U.S./Mexico border.

What is your ultimate dream in terms of your career?  Have you already accomplished this?
I hope to do research that has an effect on international public policies affecting Latina/os both in the U.S. and Latin America. I am interested in doing so for an international governing body like the United Nations or with an international organization focused on Latin America. 

What is your cultural background and how did it influence your choice of career and/or research area?
I am a proud Latina of Mexican descent. My mom was very adamant that I speak both English and Spanish and she always stressed that one day my language and culture would be considered an asset to others. So many opportunities to work in and for my community have presented themselves because I am bilingual, know my culture, and spent so much time in Mexico. My cultural background has not only taught me so much, but it still leads me down my career and research paths. My background is in HIV/AIDS. The elevated risks faced by Latinas, Latina/o GLBTs, and Latina/o im/migrants guided my entry into the work I do now. I worked as an HIV tester/counselor in treatment facilities and street outreach. At the time, I was one of the only bilingual Latina testers in Harris County, so I was contracted by different agencies to pick up Latina/o numbers. So much of what happened then still informs my work today.

What is the most important quality you look for in a mentor?
Integrity. Honesty, good intentions, and transparency are important to me in general. Having a mentor with integrity is a very rewarding experience. I have a mentor who has all of these things in spades and he demonstrates them while advising my dissertation, supervising my research, referring me to other quality researchers, and supporting my other ventures. 

What do you do for fun?
I love dancing! I work part-time at a salsa studio and I started belly dancing a few months back. I also have regular happy hours with good friends, playing with my pit bull pup (who comes along to some of those happy hours), and painting. But above all, I love travel and think that’s the most fun! Wherever I go I like to try local dishes, beers, and wines and I try to visit an outdoor market or festival, live music event, art museum, Catholic church, and any Latin enclave. 

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