Staying active and eating right are important parts of leading a healthy lifestyle. But getting enough exercise can be difficult. Through two internships sponsored by NASA's Space Grant program, Martha Mosqueda is finding new ways to increase habits encouraging physical activity and healthy nutrition in youth.
In which NASA student opportunity projects did you participate, and how did you get involved in them?
I started working with Dr. Nobuko (Kay) Hongu (assistant professor and nutrition extension specialist, Department of Nutritional Sciences, the University of Arizona) in the spring of 2008, and shortly after with Dr. Barron J. Orr (assistant professor in the Office of Arid Lands Studies at the University of Arizona; Geospatial Extension Specialist; and UA/NASA Space Grant associate director). While working with Hongu and Orr, I met and worked with three outstanding Space Grant interns. They introduced me to the idea of using geospatial technologies to encourage physical activity in youth at risk of overweight and obesity. Then, I applied for the internship and was given the opportunity to continue for a second year at the University of Arizona with a NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Research Internship.
Explain the research you conducted through your NASA involvement and why this topic is important.
The first year of the internship (2008-2009), I participated in the project Using Geospatial Technology and Collaborative Mapping in Vulnerable Populations to Promote Physical Activity. The challenge we faced was to try and encourage physical activity using a combination of GPS, digital mapping and NASA satellite imagery in three vulnerable populations (seniors, low-income women, and youth). The reason why this topic is important is because regular physical activity is the most modifiable aspect of a lifestyle that can improve health across populations. At the time, navigation software in cars was just becoming popular. We speculated that putting those capabilities on handheld devices with the powerful context of satellite imagery could motivate participants to accomplish tasks, some fun (treasure hunts) and others more practical (making simple maps), and in the process get more physical activity than they would otherwise.
Indeed, our research suggested so, which led to a much more ambitious initiative called "Stealth Health" launched during my second year (2009-2010). This USDA-funded research is a novel partnership between the Earth and nutritional sciences designed to prove a concept. If we can integrate mapping software, GPS and satellite imagery into mobile phone applications capable of helping youth solve problems, can we encourage as an indirect outcome physical activity in those same youth without their knowing about it? This "stealthy" approach is based on an informal learning theory that suggests that over 70 percent of what we learn happens outside the classroom on a voluntary, self-directed basis. The Stealth Health project began with designing trials of mobile phone and social network apps that allow the end-user to take and share geo-referenced photographs and make thematic maps to address real-world problems they would like to solve. It targets youth (ages 12-18) in after-school education programs. We hypothesize that integrated communication and location-based technology along with informal learning would lead to increasing physical activity and healthy/positive nutrition habits.
My second internship year was not only about research. I was named a Space Grant Undergraduate Intern Advisor for the 2009-2010 term under Susan A. Brew's (Arizona Space Grant Consortium manager) supervision. Advisors are selected from the pool of prior year interns primarily for their leadership potential. Their role is to help new interns maximize the opportunities for growth provided by their internships while helping mentors and Space Grant administration ensure their support is as effective as possible. This involved a combination of one-on-one interaction and organizing opportunities to learn skills (e.g., presentation and writing workshops) and new concepts (e.g., guest speakers) and network with other scientists and engineers, including themselves!
What has been the most exciting part of your research?
The most exciting part of my research is to see how much I learn and how much I can do for the community of Tucson and Arizona. I have built countless professional relationships, been part of numerous conferences, and most importantly I have been able to share my knowledge with people who need it the most. In addition to pure research, my project involved translational research where the public is fundamentally engaged in the work, which is very rewarding. Seeing the impact of new ideas on the faces of the participants in a research intervention is when you know that all the hard work and effort is worth it. Words cannot express my gratitude for the opportunity this amazing internship gives scholars!
What is your educational background, and what are your future educational plans?
I graduated high school in 2007 from the tiny, low-income town of San Luis, located in the southwestern corner of Arizona. I completed a Bachelor of Science in nutritional sciences from the world-recognized University of Arizona in May 2011 and began my master's in the same department soon after. I will continue to focus my research on ways to encourage healthy lifestyles using the technologies often blamed for sedentary behavior. Seeing the trend among youth towards mobile phone usage, I am hoping to find ways to motivate activity and learning through location-based services that help youth explore the world outside. In so doing, I hope to help reverse the alarming obesity trends, what has been now declared an epidemic in the United States by the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey). After the completion of my master's degree, I plan to either pursue a Ph.D. or a Registered Dietitian's degree in nutrition and food sciences. My hopes are to influence the world positively so people can have a better quality of life.
What inspired you to choose the education/career field you did?
I am from the small town of San Luis, Ariz., on the U.S.-Mexico border, and I am the first person in my family to go to a university. My childhood was harsh, and I had to grow up fast. My family has a long history of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. My grandmother died of co-morbidities related to diabetes. If at least one of my family members knew how to prevent or manage this disease, my grandmother might still be with us today. That has inspired me to not only learn about nutrition but also contribute to the science and public outreach necessary to make a difference in this very challenging area, helping prevent the all-too-common tragedy my family has faced.
After meeting and working with Hongu and Orr, I have discovered how passionate I am about research and discovery and the link between science and solving major problems.
What do you think will be the most important things you'll take away from your experiences with NASA?
Research knowledge, presentation skills, professional relationships, and friendships are some of the most important things I value from this internship.
How do you think your NASA involvement will affect your future?
In all honesty, the University of Arizona NASA Space Grant Undergraduate Internship changed my life. I don't know where I would be standing if NASA had not given me this incredible and rewarding opportunity.
What advice would you have for other students who are interested in working with or for NASA?
Do it! It was a great and rewarding lifetime experience. I learned so much and grew as a person, student and professional. NASA Space Grant has opened up many, many doors for me. Thanks to this program and the wonderful and smart people that surround it, my life has changed.
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Mindi Capp/NASA Educational Technology Services