Finding My Niche: My Journey in Science

By: Logan Long

Self-expression is something that is incorporated in every aspect of our daily lives. There are endless ways people can express themselves whether it’s through their clothes, how they style their hair, how they act, or even how they talk. Ultimately, self-expression should be individually guided and not something pre-determined by others. It is the idea of using your thoughts, ideas, personality, and what you find appealing, so you can express how you feel to others. Although self-expression is often thought in regards to the Arts, individuals can express themselves in any form or topic. One area being science. Self-expression in science can lead to creativity and individuality within the field. Like art, music, or literature, science can be self-expressive through the use of creativity to come up with explanations. Through these explanations, scientists tell stories by connecting bits of information in a way that makes sense; then they test these stories to see if they apply to real life.

My journey of self- expression in science began like anyone else’s, in a lab. However, my particular love developed in the summer of 7th grade in the STEM Program at Winston Salem State University. I was dissecting a Cow’s eye for the first time. Something felt natural when I peeled back my incision to glance at the layers of muscle revealed underneath the dissection. I guess that’s where my interest in ophthalmology officially began as well. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know how to interpret my newfound love. It wasn’t until high school when I first began to cater to my pathway towards science. Although most of the basic science classes were required, I decided to make them honors and take AP biology. My teacher went in-depth about the biology of the body and began to do laboratory experiments. I also chose to complete science-based electives like the PLTW biomedical course and Human Anatomy and Physiology, both of which were an introduction to the connection between medicine and science. I participated in science extracurriculars such as HOSA-Future Health Professionals, the National Science Honors Society, and the STEM program at UNCC. In my senior year, I had my first brush with medicine at an MD Calling camp, where I found a source to channel this interest in science. Soon after chatting with an ophthalmologist, my passion for ophthalmology officially surfaced.

This experience and a mission trip to Haiti encouraged me to take a major in Public Health. I wanted to understand how the current health policies and health behaviors shift in society. So rather than only sitting in classes listening to lectures about the structure of a molecule, I chose to combine my interest in health and science and become a public health major concentrating in pre-health. I had the opportunity of learning about the rapid changes in health trends in America and the prevention of various diseases while simultaneously learning about the pathways, genetics, and chemistry behind those diseases. In my biology and chemistry labs, my familiarity with lab techniques and equipment such as pipetting, PCR, purification, chromatography, and filtration began to grow as well. Currently, I’m still on the pathway of expressing myself within science. I’m searching for ways I can further my journey, specifically through research and clinical experience. However, programs like the Vanderbilt PACER-SURE program has encouraged me to narrow down and organize my ideas and take the initiative to seek out those opportunities. I’m now leaning towards research topics connecting ophthalmology to cardiovascular disease or neuroscience. I also realized that I want to pursue research in the future, maybe not through a Ph.D. but possibly during medical school or after residency through a fellowship. Although I still have a long way to go, this program has served as a starting point, and I now have a plan.

Finding my Niche: Health Policy

By: Daniella Pena

My interest in science came at a young age when I discovered a show called Mystery Diagnosis in the third grade. Each episode featured a patient that had unfortunately developed an extremely rare condition, so rare that most doctors couldn’t accurately diagnose it. Each attempt to do so resulted in the disease worsening and the patient’s life at an increased risk. This progressed to the point where death was imminent, until yet another doctor took a look at the case and realized that what the patient had was a disease typically only seen once or twice in the country per year. I was captivated by this, but also deeply saddened by all the suffering that was endured before a life saving treatment was delivered. It was at that point I decided to keep a journal documenting each case, I wrote everything from symptoms, incorrect suspected illnesses, the actual “mystery diagnosis,” treatment options, and survival rates. My thought process was to have this information handy in case a patient ever came to me in the future and I didn’t have an answer to their condition, I would consult my journal. 

However, never did I imagine the day where I myself would be similar to those patients, not in developing a rare illness, but in a disease severely impacting me. I was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia in 5th grade, in my case I experienced palpitations randomly and frequently. Some of these went over 220 beats per minute at times when I was simply sitting down, completely motionless. Not only was this exhausting, but also deeply terrifying because the treatment for my condition was a cardiac ablation. After undergoing this surgery my life changed drastically, whereas during the previous months I couldn’t be physically active in order to not risk accelerating my heart, afterwards I was free to continue being the kid I had always been. It was at this point that I decided I wanted to narrow my focus to the heart and the various diseases that can be experienced when this organ malfunctions. 

I was set on this goal from elementary until my first year of college, but my life plan changed my sophomore year due to a class I took called The U.S Healthcare System. This course taught us everything about how we operate the health system we have in place here, but through this we also learned about all the problems that are present within it. From Medicaid being unfairly withheld from individuals who should qualify if income guidelines were adjusted by geographic location rather than a universal limit, to doctors performing unnecessary tests and procedures to increase their wealth regardless of how this impacts their patient’s health. I learned that nearly every aspect of our system needs serious changes, and from that moment on I decided that I would like to be involved in policy to try and address these issues. 

My life has been spent identifying a need and aiming to fill this gap, but at this phase in my life I have recognized that while I could change people’s lives for the better as their doctor I would only impact those few individuals who are my patients. My career would one day come to and end and with that everything else would too, there would have been millions of patients I never reached. This is what inspires me the most about my newfound career goal, the fact that while it will be incredibly challenging to pass a policy such as health insurance for all, if I am able to do this everyone would benefit. The positive impact I hope to make will be unbounded by geographic location or time, and will continue to impact others long after I am gone.

Therefore while my niche is not exactly science anymore, had I not been interested in science to begin with I never would have ended up discovering what I truly feel is my passion. I took a course last semester in which I learned how to analyze policy effects using the programming software Stata. Using these skills, I worked on a project analyzing the insurance uptake effects of The Affordable Care Act’s Dependent Coverage Mandate. Now, I am both learning and using R to analyze cost-sharing for cardiac rehabilitation services across Medicare Advantage plans for my project this summer. I plan to continue building up these skills throughout my education as I analyze various policies and identify areas for improvement. With this knowledge and these skills I hope to be a part of the policy writing process one day, with my main focus centered on implementing universal health care, while addressing other issues both through and alongside this policy.

Navigating Science Through My Experiences

By: Alexandra Filipkowski

Science is an act of “self expression” because it allows me to question and explore my reality. To elaborate, before I was exposed to the world of scientific research I felt that my questions that ranged from topics in health disparities to exercise to mental health could only be answered by a Google search. This being said, I could never explore the answers to my questions for myself – essentially I was never able to determine the WHY or the HOW to answer my questions. Essentially, before my exploration into science I felt I had a brick wall standing between my many scientific questions and the answers. However, with the guidance I have received from the Vanderbilt PAECER research internship and from the “Planning Your Scientific Journey” course I have started to feel like the process of scientifically answering my own questions is not unreasonable, unrealistic or impossible. Now that I have gone through the process of developing my first research question, doing ample reading and collaborating with students and content experts I believe I have finally grasped the reigns of science and now feel comfortable pursuing other research interests in my future. 

Now that I have “grasped the reigns” of scientific research I am excited to explore questions relating to cognition and exercise. Being a Division 1 collegiate athlete I train over 20+ hours a week during the fall season; however, after the season is over I go home for winter break and hardly exercise. I have realized that despite being significantly busier and my body feeling more sore during the fall season I often came to class alert, productive, excited to learn, and overall more euphoric. To the contrary, when I was home on my break I felt slow, and lazy and lacked motivation to even do simple tasks such as emptying the dishwasher. This pattern has happened for the past two years and has made me incredibly interested in the connection between cognition and exercise. In the past, I have done my typical Google searches to try to determine some answer for my sudden lack of motivation upon arriving home. I have found that in general, exercise has a stronger effect than medication on treating anxiety, depression, and other mental issues. However, I want to extend my knowledge on this connection beyond a Google Search – I want to carry out my own research experiment.

I believe from my PAECER Cardiovascular research experience I have gotten the opportunity to learn how to digest complex scientific talks and papers, how to appropriately collaborate with elite researchers and doctors and I have learned how to effectively communicate my science to different audiences. These three pillars are absolutely critical skills that I can add to my toolkit going forward; however, I believe I need to develop more technical skills at the bench in order to gain new lab techniques. As of right now I have only been in the lab for General Biology 1 and 2 and General Chemistry 1 and 2 classes. This being said, I haven’t been able to go into a lab and activate my “scientific self-expression” because I have only been doing required classwork. However, now that I have defined my research interest, I need to move forward and find professors and researchers at my university who also share these same research interests.

One final goal I have is to help implement a class or a lesson plan at my university about how to be an effective scientific communicator. Although this goal isn’t specifically “research oriented” it has become a topic I am extremely passionate about. I believe many individuals are disadued from pursuing the sciences because they are greeted with posters and presenters who speak with jargon that sounds like a second language! Additionally, around my university science buildings there are all of these beautiful posters; however, the lay audience would not be able to fathom any of it! This being said, I believe that science loses its greatness if the majority of people can’t understand it. Thus, we need to work to inform our current, and upcoming scientists on the importance of conveying their research in a comprehensible and approachable fashion. I hope to relay this importance to those in the science department at my university to see if I can make real change in this front.

Finding my niche: Neuroscience

By: Hector Haddock-Martinez

When I was in High School, I participated in a summer research experience through the NIH STEP-UP program. I was assigned to work under the guidance of Dr. James Porter, a neuroscientist who studies fear memory in rats. When I walked into Dr. Porter’s lab the first day of June, I had no idea what a neuron really was. By the end of July, I left knowing about muscarinic receptors, conditioned fear responses, and basic neuroanatomy. Although I was nowhere near to understanding the specific details of what I had worked on for the summer, I did know two things: I enjoyed research, and I was fascinated by the brain. This summer experience marked the beginning of my academic trajectory within neuroscience. I ended up working with Dr. Porter for three summers, all through the STEP-UP program.

Eventually, I decided to continue to pursue my interest in neuroscience in a laboratory closer to my home institution. Thus, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Demetrio Sierra at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, were we focus on studying the effects of brain damage on rodent behavior. Here, I learned that the brain undergoes a series of neural changes after sustaining injury. I remember being captivated by this idea that the “plastic” brain can modify itself to preserve function after being damaged. Moreover, I was surprised by the fact that these changes may sometimes be accompanied by changes in behavior. This led me to develop a research project that focused on studying the effects of brain damage due to chemical exposure on different animal behaviors, particularly anxiety, locomotion and fear. My main research question is to figure out how chemical contaminants can alter behavior by damaging the brain. Moreover, I wish to know how exactly the brain is being damaged by these chemicals.

Currently, I feel like I have a a strong skillset to tackle these questions. My background using behavioral assays and techniques has really helped me throughout my experiment. By mastering Classical Fear Conditioning, rodent handling, stereotaxic surgeries, and immunohistochemical techniques, my work has flowed smoothly these past months (prior to COVID-19). However, I would like to learn more microscopy techniques for viewing my immunohistochemical slides, since at this point, I do not feel comfortable with imaging. I feel that adding this skillset to my “toolbox” will definitely help me become a better scientist.

Finding My Niche

By: Dimitri Johnson

    Science is an act of self expression for me because I’m a deeply curious person and I have many questions about life.  These questions are usually answerable by science or science can give me a brief introduction to whatever pathway I am interested in.  My specific scientific interests lie with the brain,  the effects of nutrition on the body, and the effects of exercise on the body and mind.  Besides these specific interests I love learning about the ‘root’ of things and being a biology major has taught me about how intricate life and the world around us is.  Going from a biology class to a chemistry class really puts life into perspective and it was fun for me to view one discipline through the lens of another. 

    The brain has always been fascinating to me and seemingly most people.  This is likely because it controls everything we perceive.  I’m deeply curious about where consciousness stems from.  I am really curious about anything that science has trouble localizing in the brain such as memories as well as conscious thought. As for doing an actual research myself I do have experience doing psychology research on anxiety responses in hamsters.  I enjoy this research because I get to work with my hands a lot and think about why the animal might give a certain response.  I did work in a neurobiology lab one summer and I found out neuroscience would not be the right field for me.  While I enjoyed doing the benchwork for running an electrophysiology experience and learning new lab techniques, I did not enjoy spending half a week performing computational data analysis that involved coding.  I like figuring things out but not when it comes to numbers.  I might spend a whole day figuring out a line of code to run a task.  Once I found out that this sort of analysis is very common in neuroscience I no longer was interested in doing further research in the field.  I still enjoy reading the papers and learning more, but sitting at a computer for half the week is not for me.  

    Growing up I always was in some sort of sport, but I didn’t realize I loved exercise.  After high school I no longer did a sport and that’s when I realized I missed the physical and mental effects.  I started to explore what effects exercise has on mental health and I found that it in general had a stronger effect than medication on treating anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.  This really has helped me in college with keeping me grounded and motivated.  The physical effects of exercise people generally know about.  Being healthier and feeling stronger is always a benefit.  Another physical benefit I enjoy is somewhat mental, and that is the endorphin rush I get during a long bout of cardiovascular exercise.  I have always been into optimizing what I can about myself that is within control and exercise is an outlet for this. Science questions that ask if certain types of exercise give you a cognitive boost are typically what I am interested in now.  I am also interested in questions that relate to long term cardiovascular health. I have not previously done any research in this area but it is definitely a goal of mine. 

    I’ve been interested in diet as long as I’ve been lifting weights since high school.  I’m curious to know how nutrition can maximize my exercise recovery.  I have also not done research in this area, but I want to explore how nutrition can affect long term health outcomes. Another niche area of this is how nutrition ties in to cognitive performance. I would like to explore questions like, how come after we eat some of us feel a slump?  Changing my diet has made me feel physically better and mentally more clear. This is a key area I want to explore in my career.

    In my eyes my interests revolve around a healthy lifestyle and how that impacts the body physically and mentally.  The brain, exercise, and nutrition all play a role in this ultimate interest. 

Science as an Act of Self-Expression

By: C’Aira Dillard

Being a part of the PAECER-SURE summer program has allowed me to see all of what science has to offer. Before this summer program I had not been exposed to much science research or mastered any techniques. The most science exposure I had was through my freshman chemistry and biology labs. Once starting this program, I learned that science in general is so much more than the stereotypical way it is portrayed. Everyone who pursues a career in science do not all come from the same background nor have the same viewpoints. In the Planning Your Scientific Journey course, the first video explained that you should embrace your individuality. In the video, Dr. Keith Yamamoto expressed that if everyone comes from a common background and begins to channel their questions and answers through this common path everyone will agree, which will lead to a similar conclusion. In other words, “it must be right because everyone agrees.” Dr. Yamamoto suggests that if this is the mindset than you are lost. Having different viewpoints and backgrounds bring different perspectives to the research project. For example, in my research group, Pregnancy and Cardiovascular Disease, I am the youngest out of everyone. Being the youngest I tend to ask the basic or simple questions that most upperclassmen may look over. Bringing this perspective to the team, it allows us not to look over the simple things when conducting our research.

Now, we move on to science questions that most speak to me. I am interested in science questions that make me wonder why a particular thing is a certain way. For instance, why do African Americans tend to have a curl pattern type of hair and Caucasians tend to have straight hair? When African American babies are born, they tend to have a head full of hair compared to Caucasians, but as they grow older the tables are turned. Why is that? I find these questions interesting because of the why behind it. Also, I enjoy the chase of doing the research to answer a question that most individuals do not have the answer to. Not only am I interested in the differences of ethnic groups, but also anything that deals with pregnancy, mother, or baby. My media group are looking at the effects of hypertension during pregnancy. I never knew there were so many different factors that could lead to hypertension during pregnancy as well as preventative measures that could combat the onset of hypertension during pregnancy.

Lastly, research techniques I have already mastered include constructing a learning objective and identifying a target audience, creating a survey with valuable questions that adheres to the targeted statistical  data, and working as a team player to successfully complete a research project. Some techniques I still want to learn are effectively analyzing statistical data, writing grants to be funded for a research project, and becoming more comfortable in the lab.

Week Seven: What is going on?

Planning Your Scientific Journey


Three-week course – FINAL WEEK

July 6th – Bring Your Plan to Life

July 8th – Final Remarks

Live Session on July 8th

Being successful as a scientist requires more than acquiring knowledge and developing experimental skills. It also requires: (1) asking a good scientific question, (2) establishing a clear plan of action, and (3) seeking advice along the way. These three topics are the focus of iBiology’s course, “Planning Your Scientific Journey.” Through customizing the iBiology content, we provide summer 2020 undergraduate students an opportunity to explore these topics during their virtual experience. The goal of this course is to have our Summer Undergraduate virtual research student explore research questions that interest them, define potential career goals, and to network with mentors and faculty that can support their scientific journey.

Blog post 3 – Finding your niche

Friday, July 10

How has science been act of self-expression for you? 

The first week in the PYSJ course starts off by discussing how science is an act of self-expression. It is critical that there are a variety of perspectives to progress science and make the implication of science impactful. In this blog post discuss what kind of science questions most speak to you. We are interested to hear how these questions is interesting, motivating, andappropriately challenging for you. You should reflect on your research interests,the techniques you have already mastered, and the techniques you will be most interested in adding toyour tool kit.

July 6th

9:45 AM – Pre-meeting chats

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Program virtual “huddle” with Kendra – Visit from Dr. Linda Sealy


OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM – “Signalosomes” within the myocardium

Description:Dr. Michael Kapiloff

Register in advance for this webinar:
Password: CVI@Lokey

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Video Group Update: Writing an IRB


  • Review video and survey
    • Present preliminary data from survey pilot
    • Review structural competency data from pilot
    • Perform a factor analysis (on your own time; see link on MURAL)
    • Expert reviewer identified and contacted (cc’ Joey)
      • Get comments and correction from content expert by the end of the week
  • Write IRB
    • Go to Discover-e website
    • Share a PDF of the application with Kendra by end of day on July 10th
    • Plan to submit on July 13th after Kendra approves
  • Make sure all members have completed IRB training
    • Google “oracle vanderbilt”
      • click on “learning”
      • search “HPRR”
      • Complete the “HPRR Basic Training Course”
    • Select “yes” on the poll in #general when you have completed
      • Kendra will contact IRB office to make sure your training status is updated in Discover-e
    • You will not be able to submit until training is complete.

July 7th

OPTIONAL: 10:00 AM Gentle Yoga Session

Description: Kaitlin Briana Oliver, Yoga Instructor in Bristol UK
Meeting ID: 2864883911 Password: ZenDen

OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM SU – Faculty Career Path Talks

Dr. Ronglih Liao –
Dr. Fatima Rodriguez –
Dr. Yasuhiro Shudo –

Register in advance for this webinar: 
Password: CVI@Lokey

July 8th

OPTIONAL 11:00-12:00PM : SU – Leveraging big data to improve vascular disease care

Dr. Elsie Ross –

Register in advance for this webinar:  Password: CVI@Lokey

1:00 – 3:00PM : PYSJ- Working Session (your should have completed all modules before attending this session)


July 9th

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM – Career Pathway Talk

Efrain Garcia, PhD – US Government BARDA 

Efrain E. Garcia, PhD

Chief, International Partnerships Branch
Division of International Health Security
Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, D.C.

Watch Dr. Garcia’s Beyond the Lab interview.

11:00-12 PM – BU PD: Translational Science: How to link questions to research

Description: NaomiM Hamburg MD (BUSM)

Register in advance for this meeting:

1:00 PM- 3:00 PM – Storytelling with statistics


July 10th

Blog post 3 due: finding your niche

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM – Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt

1:00 -2:00 PM : VU-Diversity in Medicine

André Churchwell, MD

Chief Diversity Officer (VUMC)

Senior Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs (VUSM)

Interim Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer 

Vanderbilt University

Minimizing the Effects of Social Determinants of Health by Incorporating Structural Competency

By: Ximena Leon

COVID-19 has brought light to the inequalities and inequities caused by discriminatory systems in the U.S. Moreover, COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerable populations through each of the stages of the virus including information dissemination, viral transmission, quarantine, and reopening. Marginalized and minoritized communities have increased health risks due to differences in race, ethnicity, social class, zip codes, and education levels. These differences among individuals and communities are known as social determinants of health. Although clinical systems have made an effort to target the individual patient and remove biases, the social determinants of health that affect communities in the U.S. have made little to no improvement.

The health risks that an individual will encounter in their lifetime is greatly impacted by the social determinants of health. Minority groups are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) than non-minority groups. Marginalized communities do not have the resources like accessible hospitals, financial security, and safe neighborhoods that they need in order to live a healthier lifestyle. These resource-poor communities can lead to an individual having chronic stress and developing CVD. Building an environment that puts each patient on an equal playing field, will minimize the CVD risks caused by social determinants of health.

Structural competency can be the gateway for studies to find novel ways to target inequalities and inequities and improve the health of marginalized communities. Structural competency is a newly proposed idea that educates health professionals on social determinants of health and how to target those inequalities and inequities within clinical interventions. By minimizing the marginalization of patients and using cross-cultural evaluations, health professionals are acting on the systemic causes. The goal is for health professionals to treat and educate patients to improve the overall health of the population by paying attention to the underlying forces associated with the health outcomes of the marginalized communities at levels beyond just the individual. By introducing structural competency, future health professionals, researchers, and science communicators can target the social determinants of health and pave the way for equality and equity.

Our goal in our video is to remove the stigmas surrounding mental health and cardiovascular disease by understanding the various perspectives found within marginalized communities and educating the audience on the inequalities and inequities caused by the social determinants of health. Though we are not directly targeting health professionals, we hope to educate the audience on the existing systemic inequalities. Our video will educate a non-scientific audience, particularly those who suffer from mental health issues, on how marginalized communities are at higher risk for both mental health problems and development of CVD. Directly targeting the general population can help to diminish the stigmas and lead to a change in their active participation in minimizing their own risks.

Metrics are important in evaluating whether the media projects have made an impact on the audience. It is important that we communicate our research in a way that is easily understood by the audience and causes a behavioral change. By using pre- and post-surveys, we can gauge if the audience was able to learn about the social determinants of health and structural competency.

Week Six: What is going on?

Week 2- Planning Your Scientific Journey

A Process to Develop a Research Project

Developing a process – We emphasize in this lesson how developing a scientific question doesn’t happen without concerted effort. A person needs to dedicate space and time to work on it. This lesson takes you through an example process of how one advisor has her trainees develop a scientific question and experimental approach. You will define your own process for developing a research project, and identify the resources you need to explore a research topic.

Wanting to write an IRB? ORACLE TRAINING

As a component of a comprehensive program for the protection of human research participants, the Vanderbilt Human Research Protection Program (VHRPP) requires that all human subjects research investigators and key research personnel conducting human subjects complete initial and annual human research protections training as stated in VHRPP Policy and Procedures VIII.A and VIII.A.1.

HRPP training is provided through the Vanderbilt Institutional Review Board (IRB).  Additional information is available on the IRB website at:

June 29th

9:45 AM – Pre-meeting chats

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Program virtual “huddle” with Kendra


OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM SU – Mechanisms of patient-specific and disease-specific iPSCs

Dr. Joseph Wu –

Register in advance for this webinar:
Password: CVI@Lokey

OPTIONAL: 12:00 PM-1:00 PM Virtual VSSA – Faculty Seminar


1:00 PM – 3:00 PM Video Group Reflection and Brainstorming Session Round Two


June 30th

OPTIONAL: 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM SU – Faculty Career Path Talks

Register in advance for this webinar:

Dr. Vivek Bhalla –

Dr. Leah Backhus –

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM Seeds of Equity

Description: Vanderbilt Meharry Alliance

Kiersten Brown Espaillat, DPN

Description: Sarah Bounse, MPH

Sarah leads and coordinates health equity initiatives within the Office of Health Equity, primarily focusing on OHE’s education and population and community health efforts. In her previous role, she served as the Health Equity coordinator for Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department where she helped institutionalize and operationalize equity within the departments and other governmental agencies. Sarah also worked for the Knox County Health Department in Knoxville, TN, in which she employed community engagement strategies to build relationships with community members and prioritize community voice throughout her work. Sarah has a Master of Public Health from the University of Kentucky and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tennessee. She currently volunteers as co-lead for the Nashville chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and founding team member of API Middle Tennessee. In her free time, Sarah enjoys reading, traveling, dancing and enjoying the outdoors.

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Community Engagement

Denise Costanza serves as Vice President of Health Strategy for Middle Tennessee. As Vice President she is responsible for ensuring implementation of the programs to make healthy opportunities accessible, affordable, and default for all Americans. Her work includes achieving sustainable health impact through policy, systems, and environmental change. She is accountable for developing, executing, evaluating, and communicating innovative collaboration strategies to improve health in communities.

2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Career talks: Alyssa Hasty, Ph.D.


July 1st

OPTIONAL 11:00-12:00PM : SU – Imaging surveillance following treatment for cancer and cancer survivorship

Dr. Leah Backhus –

Register in advance for this webinar: 
Password: CVI@Lokey

OPTIONAL: 12:00 PM-1:00 PM : Virtual VSSA – Faculty Seminar


July 2nd

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM – Career Pathway Talk – Scott Akers Pharm D, PhD Pharmacy School


11:00 AM – 12:00 PM SU – Introduction to Literature Review and Citation Management

Description: Register in advance for this webinar: 

Password: CVI@Lokey

July 3rd – Happy Fourth!

Nipping it in the Bud: Looking to the Roots of Health Disparities in Structural Systems

By: Grace Garrett

The human race is 99.9% identical on a molecular, genetic level. The cause of an illness in an individual person may be molecularly based, but it doesn’t explain differences in burden of illness and injury for entire groups of people. The social determinants of health are social, environmental, and interpersonal factors that influence a person’s ability to engage in healthy behaviors and risk for injury or illness. These factors include the neighborhood conditions, availability of a social support network, and socioeconomic status. Invisible institutions in society contribute to the creation of the social determinants of health such as public policy which can change environmental conditions, healthcare delivery systems like insurance, and redlining. Structural competency is the application of this knowledge by health care workers to address unique needs for each individual patient by understanding where the social determinants came from. 

            In regards to cardiovascular disease in particular, it has been evidenced that the social determinants of health play a significant role in development of cardiovascular disease. Current directions in research include exploring depth to which specific factors affect development of CVD as well as effective solutions to mitigate risk. Suggestions for health care providers to actively diminish these effects include recording socioeconomic data during healthcare visits and including this data’s relation to co-morbidities in publications, partnering with community organizations to provide social support for patients, and advocating for public policy which address the social determinants of health. 

            To address the social determinants of health in the summer media projects, the purpose of the videos will be to highlight a current topic in cardiovascular research and disease, especially for those most at risk, with the risk often in part due to social determinants affecting them. Data will be presented evidencing the disparities of development of cardiovascular disease among socioeconomic strata and racial differences. The goal of the video is also to present possible mechanisms of changing trajectory the viewer has control over to empower him/her to make a change. 

            For evaluation of the quality of structural competency and science communication, using the viewer’s understanding may be most objective as to whether the video goal was achieved or not. This assessment would simultaneously address the effectiveness of science presented and the viewer’s grasp of social determinants of health. It might be in the form of multiple choice questions asking the viewer to pick which option counts as a social determinant or which of the following is true regarding risk of developing congenital heart defects. Percent of questions answered correctly could serve as an indicator of effectiveness of communication. To incentivize viewers into completing the assessment, a completion could count as an entry for a reward like an Amazon gift card.