The Experiences of a Healthy Brain Network Scholar | Illinois Prevention Research Center | University of Illinois at Chicago

The Experiences of a Healthy Brain Network Scholar

The Experiences of a Healthy Brain Network Scholar

In 2015, during my first year of graduate school at the School of Public Health, I was offered the opportunity to be a Healthy Brain Network Scholar for Dr. David Marquez in the Department of Kinesiology. This was a huge privilege for me, because this meant that I would participate in monthly calls with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Brain Research Network and take on a scholar project.

As Dr. Marquez’s research assistant, I started off by getting acquainted with his Being Active, Increasing Latinos’ healthy Aging (BAILA) study. This particular study tries to see if physically active Latino older adults tend to have better cognitive health. We tested this theory by making a group of them take a dancing course while another group takes an education class. In the end, participants would get cognitive tests every 3 months to see if their brain health improved. My main role during this time was to meet with participants and help with cognitive testing. This was a great opportunity because I was able to meet the Latino participants and learn more about their personal stories as they continue to age. The best part was when they offered me advice and encouragement to complete my Master of Public Health degree.

Additionally, as an RA, I was also allowed to use data from the lab in order to co-author my very first manuscript. After analyzing data from focus groups that were done with BAILA participants, I decided to name my project, “How Older Latinos Feel about the Impact of Physical Activity and Nutrition on their Brain Health.” Therefore, I wrote a literature review and now that the majority of the paper is written and edited, I am on the search for peer-reviewed journals that are willing to accept this manuscript for consideration. This is a thrill for me, because this is the first time I have the opportunity to publish work. As a Latina student who has worked hard, this is something I have been waiting for!

Working in Dr. Marquez’s Lab has fostered strong mentorship relationships with his other employees as well. Given that the Latino PhD student population is very small, I was able to mingle with Latinas who were on their route to receiving their PhD in Kinesiology. As a result, I am now considering applying to PhD programs after spending a few years in the workforce.

Overall, through relationship building at the lab with peers and with the Latino participants from nearby communities, I have realized the importance of continuing my work with marginalized communities in need of researchers able to speak their language and genuinely care about improving their health through physical activity and better nutrition.

About the image. The photo was taken by the Illinois PRC of BAILA study dance classes in 2015.



Karen Aguirre, MPH Candidate
Healthy Brain Research Network Scholar
Graduate Student, School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago

The UIC PRC selected student Karen Aguirre as their Health Brain Scholar for the Healthy Brain Research Network (HBRN) in 2015 during her first year as a Health Policy and Administration graduate student at the UIC School of Public Health. As a result, Karen was offered the opportunity to participate in a research project under the tutelage of Dr. David X Marquez, Associate Professor in the Kinesiology and Nutrition Department at UIC. Karen’s scholar project is titled, “What are the Perceptions of Older Latinos of the Impact of Physical Activity and Nutrition on Brain Health?” Focus groups were conducted with participants from Dr. David Marquez’ piloted randomized-controlled Latin dance treatment or health education control group, which offered either dancing lessons to elderly Latinos participants or offered education on health subjects to participants. The projects findings demonstrate that Latino older adults have limited information on the importance of regular exercise and the type of nutritional recommendations needed to improve cognitive health into old age.

As part of her scholar work, Karen did a literature review and is drafting and revising a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. As a Scholar, Karen was encouraged to submit an abstract to Harvard University’s 16th Annual New England Science Symposium and is also in the process of submitting an abstract to the UIC Minority Health Conference.