Student Researchers Investigate Health Disparities in Central and South America

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

Twelve students from The University of Texas at El Paso will spend six weeks investigating Hispanic health disparities in Panama, Ecuador and Costa Rica as part of the Minority Health International Research Training (MHIRT) 2013 Summer Institute from June 29-Aug. 9.

This is the first time in the program’s eight-year history that three students will travel to Panama to work alongside researchers at the Instituto Conmemorativo Gorgas de Estudios de la Salud and at the Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Servicios de Alta Tecnología in Panama City. It is thefourth year that students will travel to Costa Rica and the fifth year in Ecuador. 2013 MHIRT student researchers include, from left, (top row) Samer Hadrous, Ricardo Parra, Areli Guajardo, Esmirna Corona, Melisa Cardenas, Angie Betancourt and Munir Buhaya, (bottom row) Alexandra Hernandez, Jasmine Guerra, Alejandra Escareno, Viridiana Sigala and Elizabeth Preza. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service2013 MHIRT student researchers include, from left, (top row) Samer Hadrous, Ricardo Parra, Areli Guajardo, Esmirna Corona, Melisa Cardenas, Angie Betancourt and Munir Buhaya, (bottom row) Alexandra Hernandez, Jasmine Guerra, Alejandra Escareno, Viridiana Sigala and Elizabeth Preza. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Housed in UTEP’s College of Health Sciences, the MHIRT program offers short-term international health disparities research opportunities for Hispanic undergraduate and graduate students. Participants engage in research aimed at eliminating Hispanic health disparities along with international research mentors. They also participate in cultural immersion activities that are focused on economic development, tourism, history and the arts.

“The program provides an opportunity for students from underrepresented groups to engage in Hispanic health disparities research and explore the world of research as a possible career path or option,” said Leticia Paez, assistant dean for community and international programs in the College of Health Sciences.

This year’s trainees include graduate students Alejandra Escareno and Areli Guajardo and undergraduate students Angie Betancourt, Munir Buhaya, Melisa Cardenas, Esmirna Corona, Jasmine Guerra, Samer Hadrous, Alexandra Hernandez, Ricardo Parra, Elizabeth Preza, and Viridiana Sigala.

Six students will travel to the University of Costa Rica in San Jose to research waterborne diseases, cancer prevention and public health.

At the Universidad Central del Ecuador in Quito, three students will spend their summer investigating health  issues affecting the elderly.

Among them is Esmirna Corona, a social work major, who looks forward to traveling to a different country, immersing herself in a new culture and participating in a unique research experience.

“This opportunity will allow me to experience the science part of social work and see different points of view,” Corona said. “It will enhance my education and open more doors for me to conduct research.”

Students took part in a six-week course, including a pre-immersion experience, to get them acquainted with their host countries. Activities included a challenge high ropes course and the creation of collages made out of pictures from magazines and newspapers to express their expectations from the MHIRT program experience. 

UTEP is the only one of 18 participating universities that offers this program funded by the National Institutes of Health – National Center for Minority Health Disparities. To date, 87 students have participated in the UTEP MHIRT program.

Students will receive housing, transportation, a stipend and 10 credit hours. To be considered for the program, applicants must be juniors, seniors or graduate students, have a minimum 3.0 G.P.A. and have declared a major in a pre-professional science, or a health or human service discipline.

For information about the MHIRT program, visit chs.utep.edu/mhirt.