Dr. Elinor Schoenfeld,
I remember when I first went in, I was really shy when it came to working with people, and just talking with other people. Before, I had always been afraid to ask for help. But after awhile, I got comfortable with everyone. Just being in the work environment, getting in there . . . it helps you grow. Helps you learn about something you wouldn't get exposure to in a regular classroom.
Interview: read more >>
Researcher of the Month
Are you at high risk for osteoporosis? What steps can you take to build strong bones at any age? Advice on these and other related questions can be found on an innovative interactive website [to be launched in less than a month!] , that Patricia Ng developed together with her research mentor, Dr. Elinor Schoenfeld of Preventive Medicine in collaboration with Dr. Barry Gruber, Director of the Osteoporosis Center at Stony Brook. Funds for this project are provided through a grant from the New York State Osteoporosis Prevention and Education Program (NYSOPEP).
Actually, Patricia has been working on osteoporosis public health education, awareness and disease prevention for over 5 years now: she began collaborating with Dr. Schoenfeld the summer after her sophomore year as a student at Hauppauge HS. Patricia's quality work as a high school researcher, initially supported with a fellowship from the Arthritis Foundation (2002) was quite successful, earning her numerous awards and accolades — including semifinalist status in the Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition (2004), the LISEF Department of Public Health Special Award (2004), and Honorable Mention at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair (2004). Based on such positive interactions with her research mentor, Patricia resolved to study at Stony Brook University, where she was admitted to the Honors College and received a Valedictorian Scholarship. A Biology major from the get-go with a focused commitment to pursuing a career in medicine, Patricia joined Stony Brook's Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SBVAC) as a freshman, and has "loved every minute of it."
When I applied for the Corps, I really had no idea what was involved in EMS or what EMTs do exactly. I have to say that joining SBVAC has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. During the first semester, I had to take "probie" class every Sunday to learn first aid and basic skills for riding an ambulance. After that semester I enrolled in a NYS EMT-Basic course and earned my certication by the following summer (June 2005). Now I am in my third year as a member of the Corps and I've "moved up". I was elected secretary and my duties involve writing minutes and organizing our pre-hospital care reports. I also recently earned the position of "crew chief," which is a status where I am the main EMT on an emergency call. As an officer and a CC, I volunteer at least 10 hours a week being on duty for calls or doing officer work. It sounds like a bit much with all the other activities I do — President of Students Putting an End to Cancer, Honors College Junior Class representative, Student Ambassadors, Stony Brook Marching Band, being a member of honor societies, etc., etc.— but I love being a part of SBVAC. Not only has it given me hands on experience in patient care and a different view on the medical field, but I've also had the pleasure of working with some of the most amazing people. Thanks to SBVAC, I've found a nice niche on campus and they are truly like family to me.
Patricia presented a poster at the URECA Celebration last spring, and will be presenting the latest research developments on her project at the next URECA Celebration on April 25th, 2007. Funded by URECA his past summer, Patricia has recently evaluated the feasibility of implementing social network theories to a health campaign at a university—something she will soon be putting into practice! With the launching of The Osteoporosis Prevention Project (TOPP) website , and a number of planned events that aim to involve key organizations on campus, Patricia hopes to make the the upcoming osteoporosis awareness and prevention campaign a big success at SBU!
Following graduation in '08, Patricia plans to go to medical school and is strongly considering a dual degree (M.D./M.P.H.) to sustain and build on her focus and commitment to public health issues. Patricia plays flute/piccolo; enjoys volleyball, soccer and running (good for the bones!); serves as a Stony Brook Student Ambassador; and also loves travel and nature. She hopes to return someday to the Galapagos Islands to once again see the blue-footed boobies, or to the rainforests of Ecuador— places she visited her senior year through a science high school program sponsored by BOCES. Below are some excerpts shared from her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director .
Karen: Tell me about your research project. How did you first get involved?
Patricia:My project involves osteoporosis education. And I first got into that kind of research in the beginning of high school when I was awarded the Arthritis Foundation fellowship for students. I was in a high school research program and I was just looking for a mentor at that time. So it was kind of by a stroke of luck that I found Dr. Schoenfeld, my mentor now. She was one of the few professors that emailed me back and so we started working then. My first project was about osteoporosis in breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer survivors. Apparently the occurrence of osteoporosis is high in them since many of these women go through estrogen hormone therapy. These changes in hormone levels affect bone growth and increase their risk for osteoporosis. So I wanted to evaluate osteoporosis awareness in this population, to see if they knew that because of their treatment, they were at higher risk. That was a pilot study, that was my first project.
So you've been working with your mentor for quite a long time then.
I enjoy working in Preventive Medicine, and I see myself staying for the next two years! But yes, I started right after my sophomore year, the summer before my junior year of high school. And it was ideal in that it got me used to that kind of research, to epidemiology, how to make surveys and do statistical analysis. After that, I started working on my Intel project in my senior year. I wanted to create an osteoporosis education program for high school students. Osteoporosis really develops gradually, and really is linked to your health behavior when you're young. So I wanted to have students learn more about prevention— to drink more milk, have calcium, do exercise, everything like that. So what we did.... we created a tailored interactive website.
The program to make a website was first developed by mentor and collagues from Preventive Meidicne but I developed the actual content of the website which was supported with funds from our NYSOPEP grant. The website has a question / answer response format. All the education information is tailored to the person using it. Depending on what answer they chose and whatever question I asked them, it would give them some sort of information that would just pertain to them. For example, How much milk do you drink? More than 2 glasses? 1 glass? None? Those who drink more than two glasses get a response: "Great job, keep it up…calcium really prevents osteoporosis!" Someone who says, "I don't drink milk at all" gets a suggestion, such as : "Why don't you put milk in your cereal?" The website is tailored to how someone can change his/her behavior. I wanted to see if this type of education material would be effective for a young population. For me and for my age group, growing up with computers and everything, it's typical that we would search straight to the computer before going to a book or any brochure. Later on, I evaluated the effectiveness to see if the website users actually learned from our site. And when I gave them a quiz on osteoporosis, we found that the knowledge level did increase significantly and this type of website was really innovative. Really, there was nothing out there specifically like that. Now. . . I want to implement an education campaign for college students. We are the first to try this technique on a college campus for osteoporosis education in the US!
So you had this experience, from high school, of working on a osteoporosis education website. How different will the new educational site that's being launched now, targeting the college community, be from the one you designed specifically for high school students?
The website that I made is similar, and has the same interactive format. What the difference is. . . is that we now have 3 age groups that we're targeting. There 's more information. There are more diverse people on campus. For example, I can talk about smoking. And alcohol consumption. These could increase one's risk for osteoporosis. The previous interactive website I worked on was specifically for grades 9-12. But the one that I'm working on now includes information for all members of the university community. . . for 18-25 year olds, 25-49 year olds, and those aged 50 or older as each age group can benefit from osteoporosis education.
In addition to evaluating how effective a website would be for college students, I'm also looking at the use of social network theory for a college campus. Social network theories, also known as diffusion theories, state that if you can find certain innovators within a college community. . the people who have a new idea. . .that they motivate others to follow their ideas. . . so it ends up that they tell their friends and those people tell everyone else . . . and the idea is spread across campus. I want to see if it's possible to make a health campaign specifically about osteoporosis in a college campus, and put these theories into practice. This type of networking can be applied to other health education programs ... for all college campuses.
The new website is called TOPP, The Osteoporosis Prevention Project and is being launched in November . In high school everyone knew who I was. And it was easy to say, just check out my website. But here, Stony Brook's a much bigger place. So we're going to work with other organizations on campus, such as the premed society, and the undergraduate colleges, and get their students involved in part of the project. That way, we'll be targeting innovators on campus, key organizations that can help us develop additional programs. . people who'll ask their friends to visit the site. We'll go on the website together. We'll have different programs to motivate an interest in this topic.
Do you have a personal connection to this osteoporosis story?
At first I didn't. But then, recently, I've heard more stories from my family involving osteoporosis. As I learned more about the disease, I learned that women, especially Asian women, are at higher risk. . . . When I heard that, I thought, I better start drinking more milk! But really, that definitely hit home — knowing that I myself was at high risk potentially.
What is your mentor like, Dr. Schoenfeld?
She's a really good friend, almost like a second mom to me. She's always looking out for me. I came to Stony Brook because of her. She told me about the Honors College program. That's why I applied here. Whenever she learns about special opportunities, awards, research programs, she sends me an email right away. Then also sometimes, we'll talk about life questions, boys, anything like that. . . I love talking to her. I feel so lucky to find a mentor that's so open and understanding and helpful. She is very positive too, always on the up side of things.
Has doing research enhanced your education?
I definitely think so. Especially in classes, when it came to learning about the skeleton system, and bone growth. . . I knew details about the mechanisms for why bones become brittle, about the parts of the bone . . . so that was helpful. [More generally, too, ] when it came also to the lab part and writing research papers, it was so much easier for me than for other people who had never written a paper before. The whole format of intro, discussion, results. . those aspects of writing. . . and also, when it came to using journals. . . I had a foundation; I already knew which search engines to go to, what I should look for.
Have you learned some skills you wouldn't in the classroom...for instance, expertise in website design?
Website design I didn't have to do so much with. The program we use is easy. . . you just put in the education material. But I definitely had to learn statistics, and learn how to develop surveys. I remember the first time I used SAS, the statistics program. I thought, what is a confidence interval? And t-tests. . . I had no idea what these things were. Then slowly as I worked with it, I became familiar with knowing what numbers were significant. It definitely helped later on when I took statistics here. Also key was just learning how to ask certain kinds of questions in surveys. The wording itself could totally trigger something else, some other response. I had to learn how a survey should be structured, and what is needed to extract certain kinds of information.
What are the benefits of doing research over the summer?
Definitely the time that you can have. During the year, I can at most spend ten hours/week on it. During the summer, I could focus on it and get more done. I get to see my mentor more. Also, you don't have to worry about. . . say, do I have a test tomorrow? The summer is the best time to do research. You can really concentrate. I like doing research in the summer.
I would also definitely recommend research in general. For me, especially starting off in high school... I found that it made me grow as a person, as a student. I remember when I first went in, I was really shy when it came to working with people, and just talking with other people. Before, I had always been afraid to ask for help. But after awhile, I got comfortable with everyone. Just being in the work environment, getting in there . . . it helps you grow. Helps you learn about something you wouldn't get exposure to in a regular classroom.
Apart from the website itself, what other forums have you used for public presentation?
In high school I always went to every science fair on Long Island. Most of my presentation experience really was during high school. . . . But last spring, I got the chance to present at URECA, at the Celebration. I liked URECA a lot. It was interesting just to see other student projects. It was cool to show my friends when they came up, "See...this is what I do when I'm not in the dorms, this is what I'm working on." So I enjoyed it. It was fun.
What so far has been your favorite experience with research?
I think I'd have to say . . . actually implementing the project, having my peers actually get to see what I had done. That was definitely my most memorable moment. In high school, I'd say, " I do research at SB." But no one really knew what that meant. Finally, when they saw the actual product of what I worked on, they'd tell me, "That's so awesome that I made this, and that I'm working in the real world."
That echoes what you liked also about the URECA Celebration, about communicating with other people.
Exactly. Letting people know that I made something just feels good..I like doing that, having accomplished something that I can share with other people. That's probably my favorite part of research.
Has research helped prepare you for your future goals?
Futurewise, I feel that with working in Preventive Medicine, I found that I wanted to do something more with people and not in the lab. I like doing more clinical stuff. That was definitely helpful to know. I don't know what field I specifically want to specialize in or anything like that yet; and there's still time. But I definitely know that I want to work with people directly. And help them on their way, see them have changes in their lifestyle. I want to work on the preventive aspects of health, yes, that's my ultimate goal. Especially with public health, I want to go further with work on promoting prevention. Part of being in a medical practice is telling people one is treating how to change their health behaviors so that they can improve their health.