Campus News

USC student wins American Association of Public Health student award

Bokie Muigai October 17, 2022
Isabella Hernandez

Isabella Hernandez is a 2022 recipient of the Public Health Education and Health Promotion (PHEHP) Student Award from the American Public Health Association (APHA). Her abstract received a top score among submissions in this category. She is one of five students selected for a PHEHP award, and as a result will give an oral presentation on her work at the APHA Annual Meeting & Expo in Boston this November.

Hernandez was the lead author on research that identified racial, ethnic, heteronormative, and gender bias in questionnaires administered to participants of the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) cohort. Along with a team of researchers, she evaluated over 245 forms and found that over one-third (36%) featured problematic language. Their findings in turn informed their recommendations to the ECHO scientific community on how to conduct inclusive research.

Isabella Hernandez will be presenting at the APHA 2022 Annual Meeting & Expo. (Photo courtesy Isabella Hernandez.)

“When participants are filling out these forms and something doesn’t sit right with them, it influences their responses to questions, and may affect their attitudes towards participating in the study at all,” explains Hernandez, a senior in the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention program. “Conducting inclusive science is important because we want to be as accurate as possible when collecting data. It is not helpful to collect data when our participants are not able to accurately reflect their experiences and identity because options don’t exist for them to choose.”

Hernandez conducted this research as a fellow in the Environmental Health Methodological, Trainings and Teaching Enterprise (EH MATTERS). The two-year undergraduate mentorship program is offered by the USC Environmental Health Centers, and directed by Jill Johnston, PhD and Max Aung, PhD. The goal of the program is to incorporate diverse voices into the field of environmental health sciences, and around issues of environmental health. “Students that are interested in working in these spaces are critical to advancing the field of environmental health and moving environmental justice into scientific spaces and policy spaces as well,” shares Johnston. The curriculum also offers professional development to students and provides a broad exposure to different issues through community research.

“Isabella has presented this work to the consortium of investigators at meetings attended by well over 1,000 investigators. She has incredible initiative, leadership skills, and she is deeply committed to environmental health equity,” shares Tracy Bastain, PhD, MPH, her mentor, and Director of the Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) Center for Environmental Health Disparities. “She exhibits a degree of responsibility and poise beyond her years and is among the strongest undergraduate students with whom I have worked.”

Improvements in data collection tools is one of many steps to addressing the lack of research on marginalized groups. “We need to be doing everything we possibly can to be culturally and socially conscious—and use research materials that are inclusive of all different identities and experiences.” ECHO has nearly 70 cohorts across the country, with thousands of participants in various studies. After meeting with Hernandez and the research team, ECHO scientists have taken into consideration their recommendations as they choose which forms to use in the next iteration of data collection tools.

Isabella Hernandez is a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She has been enrolled in the EH MATTERS program for two years under the guidance of mentor Tracy Bastain, PhD, MPH. She is a 2022 American Public Health Association (PHEHP) Student Awardee. Her abstract is titled Non-inclusive Language in Human Subjects Questionnaires: Addressing Racial, Ethnic, Heteronormative and Gender Bias.