A Minor (Major) Change: How Undergraduate Research Changed Myself, My Goals, and Even My Major

Name: Amy Richele Sharn

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research: Human Nutrition Health Behavior Interventions

My STEP Signature Project was the opportunity to participate on a research project within Dr. Carolyn Gunther’s lab on human nutrition health behavior interventions during summer 2015. My role was a camp location site leader at Camp NERF (Nutrition Education Recreation Fitness) at a Columbus City Elementary school. I helped to coordinate the many activities and people at the site and recorded and collected data that would enable the research team to evaluate the outcome. The research goal was to see if behavior interventions introduced in a summer camp format could improve the weight status of children. I also had the opportunity to volunteer in another community intervention, Simple Suppers, where I taught children food preparation skills and also collected data on the effect of structured healthy meal times on the weight status of parents and children.

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As a college student, you are surrounded by people who want to learn, grow and improve. The university community is full of people who are accepting of new ideas and approaches to solve problems.  You are surrounded by open minds. It is easy to assume that the community that surrounds the university shares your open mindedness.

I quickly learned that outside the university community that the willingness to listen cannot be assumed. I saw firsthand through small day to day interactions with people you may be able to bring change in a person’s view of their situation. In each interaction you learn something about yourself and how to improve. Participating in health behavior research challenged me to interact with people who have different backgrounds and viewpoints than mine. During the course of working on this research, I gained an appreciation for how difficult it is for people to adopt new lifestyle habits. This showed me how important that this research is and increased my passion to be part of the team that finds effective solutions.

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The weekly interactions with families and children during the summer months allowed me to develop relationships with the people within our intervention programs. I saw the barriers (both economic and social) that made adoption of healthier lifestyles difficult. I also developed relationships with the researchers themselves. I learned that the scientists were not individuals focused on their research for their own gain, but were committed, giving their time, and driven to find ways to help the next generation of our children in the fight against obesity as their reward.

In the midst of my STEP project, I lost a family member due to her lifestyle choices. I wonder if and how someone in my field of study may have been able to intervene and help her. I am committed to advancing the knowledge in my field so that we can reach people like her.

As a result of these experiences, I have decided that I am going to continue in the field of nutrition, completing the requirements for an RD and then pursuing a masters and a doctorate. I will model my path after the successful career paths of the graduate students and researchers that I have worked with. They have achieved a successful and healthy work life balance that I know I can achieve as well.

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At seventeen I had my life planned out: undergrad, medical school, residency, marriage, family; all in that order. As I’ve worked on research and grown throughout my college experience, I see now that medical school is not the only way to be an active part of the community to changes people’s lives.

I discovered that my passion is not in the science of the interaction between molecules I studied as a chemistry major, but rather the science of the interaction of people and their lifestyle choices. My passion is how can I impact the wellness in our community and help people live healthier lives.

I want to leave those around me with a lasting impact in whatever career path I follow. I will surround myself with people whom give back to the world what life has taught them and who encourage those around them to do the same; I have joined them.

One thought on “A Minor (Major) Change: How Undergraduate Research Changed Myself, My Goals, and Even My Major

  1. What fascinating and important research you conducted! And yes, lifestyle changes are incredibly difficult. Thank you for your commitment to finding a solution in an effort to save lives and communities. I’m so sorry for the loss of your family member.

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