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UAB Student Shines at Minority Health Research Symposium

Shekwonya Samuel
By Dylan Baggiano
UAB News

Shekwonya Samuel, a first-year Ph.D. student pursuing a degree in health behavior and promotions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is the first-place graduate winner of the Minority Student Research Symposium.

Samuel’s winning project — her research poster on Assessing Health Literacy among All of Us Participants — focused on examining how health literacy can impact health conditions, diseases and outcomes in underrepresented communities. From her research, she found that low health literacy is not only detrimental to the health care system but also leads to increased mortality rates.

Samuel aims to address health disparities among underserved populations using her knowledge of microbiology while working as a graduate research assistant with the UAB Center for the Study of Community Health. Her main research interest is in STIs and infectious diseases.

“Leading up to the symposium, I felt unprepared; but UAB’s support and resources that were available to me helped me develop my poster preparation and presentation tremendously,” Samuel said. “The symposium provided a platform for me to improve my writing and presentation skills, in addition to giving me the courage to strive toward achieving my goals as a researcher.”

The Minority Student Research Symposium was created to answer a call to action to address a lack of representation of minority populations in biomedical research.

As part of an effort to address the shortfall, the Black Greek Leadership Consortium is partnering with universities across the United States to engage minority students studying health sciences and hosted the Minority Student Research Symposium in May.

Scholars participated in completing a research project utilizing data from the All of Us Research Program — an effort by the NIH that is inviting 1 million people across the country to help build one of the most diverse health databases in history. By building this nationwide repository, the program hopes to ensure medical researchers have data that properly reflects the current diversity of the United States that can facilitate breakthroughs in precision medicine and lead to improved efficacy of current treatments.

The scholars presented their work in a virtual poster session and developed a variety of research and professional skills while preparing for and presenting at the symposium. Among the main research topics presented were alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, chronic disease, physical disabilities, mental health and disorders, nutrition and weight status, and social determinants of health.

Updated at 11:35 a.m. on 7/16/21 to correct the degree Samuel is pursuing.