The University Honors Program has been working this year to enlarge the list of benefits of being a student in the University Honors Program. Historically, we have focused on some abstract benefits of participating in the University Honors Program such as our interdisciplinary emphasis, strong community, and focus on personal, professional and intellectual development (see this link: https://goo.gl/TjIxOL). In addition to these benefits, we have also begun to make connections with programs around campus that we feel help students with their personal, professional, and intellectual development.
In addition expanding opportunities on campus, this year LAUNCH: Honors also established an Honors Travel Fund, providing up to 10 awards of $200 each to support activities aligned with the University Honors Program mission of challenging high-achieving undergraduate students to develop the personal, professional, and intellectual skills they will need to address tomorrow’s multifaceted problems. In this post, Seth Smitherman describes the conference he attended with the support of his Honors Travel Fund award.
My name is Seth Smitherman ’17. I am a senior Biomedical Sciences major graduating in August, and I am an undergraduate researcher with Dr. Jennifer Horney in the School of Public Health. We conducted a unique public health assessment of Bryan College Station and the surrounding area last December to assess risk for certain neglected tropical diseases in Brazos County. Dr. Horney encouraged me to submit my abstract for a poster presentation spot at the Annual Education Conference of the Texas Public Health Association. Under her careful tutelage, I was able to get the abstract accepted, and before I knew it, I was off to Fort Worth.
As I sheepishly approached the registration desk at the Hilton in the heart of downtown Fort Worth to check in at my first professional research conference, I was both excited and slightly nervous about what was in store for me over the next few days. Here I stood, a know-nothing undergraduate biomedical sciences student, surrounded by M.D., Ph.D. and MPH-bestowed professionals, many with extensive and highly decorated careers in the field of public health. Over the course of the next two days, I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth with which I received into this conference of professionals. Any concerns I may have initially had about not fitting in or being out of my league were quickly put to rest by the friendliness my fellow attendees showed me. It was obvious that they saw young students such as me as the future continuation of all the work they did on a day to day basis and encouraged me to continue to pursue the field of public health.
While presenting at the grand opening poster presentation, I was able to discuss the results of my research with the lead epidemiologists in various public health jurisdictions across the state, including people from Travis, Brazos, Williamson, and Tarrant counties. I received some tips and pointers on how to effectively write the rest of my thesis based on the data I presented and was even able to teach the experts a thing or two about how to modernize their public health data collection techniques.
As always, I was able to lean on the support of Kahler Stone, a DrPH student working with me on the project with Dr. Horney for guidance and advice on how to navigate a research conference. During those times when we weren’t by our posters, I took Kahler’s advice attending some of the various breakout presentations. Among other talks, I got to hear David Gruber, a commissioner at the Texas Department of State Health Services, discuss the state of the state’s health and compare the state of Texas to the rest of the United States. He also talked about short- and long-term strategies for improving the state’s health any places where we fall behind – mainly in maternal health and infant mortality rates. I also got to hear presentations that were directly relevant to my research topic, covering such topics as Chagas disease, the emergence of Zika virus, and infectious diseases like rabies and tuberculosis.
Overall, I sincerely enjoyed my experiences at the TPHA conference. It was a chance to teach and learn from some of the most accomplished public health professionals in the state of Texas, and I hope that my research leads me back to their annual conference at some point in the future.
For more information about the Honors Travel Fund, visit http://to.ag/HonorsTravelFund.