CSUN BUILD PODER Scholar recognized by Drexel University and American Heart Association

Share this posting on social media!

Contact Info: alina.adamian@csun.edu
Learn more about this article: Download Attachment

By Kirsten Cintigo

Lorena Melendez, a senior at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and BUILD PODER Scholar, was recognized this year for her work in nutrition by both Drexel University and the American Heart Association.

Melendez immigrated from Colima, Mexico at the age of 15 as an unaccompanied minor, in hopes of receiving a better education. She began her journey in Nutrition and Dietetics after being encouraged by her high school teacher to pursue higher education at CSUN after graduation.. She ultimately chose this specific major and career path because of the strong connection she felt between food and its impact.

“Since I was in high school I’ve always been conscious of the connection between what I was eating and its impact on my health,” Melendez shared. “I started doing research and learned that a dietician is someone who is an expert in nutrition and thought, ‘I want to be that person.’”

After being accepted into CSUN, Melendez soon found out about BUILD PODER through program advertisements to join Cohort 3. Unfortunately, at the time she wasn’t able to apply as she spent the majority of her day working at a restaurant and attending school full-time. However, when the BUILD program came around again for applications to join Cohort 5, she decided to apply after being encouraged by her professor, Nelida Duran, Ph.D. 

“At the time I had already had experience in the community but not in research,” Melendez explained. “It made me realize I wanted to discover another area of nutrition.”

After she was accepted to BUILD PODER, Melendez began to work with Duran in community and nutrition public health research. Some of the activities she did were tabling at farmer’s markets and teaching classes about nutrition in English and Spanish. “I’m working mostly within the Latino community because that’s my community,” she said. “We have a lot of problems and health issues so I really want to help bridge that connection.” 

In March 2020, Melendez received the Empowered to Serve Scholar award from the American Heart Association (AHA). Out of 100 students, she was one of 10 students picked to receive a $10,000 scholarship for her research. She credits this award to the work she completed developing the curriculum for interventions. 

Lorena Melendez                              

“I also think one of the reasons why I won the award was because in my application I talked about how research can help communities and be a tool for change,” she said. “What has been great though is more people have become interested in the research I’m doing because of this award. I only hope this will inspire other first-generation students to do the same.”

Later, in October 2020, Melendez presented a different research project at Drexel University during their Drexel University Discovery Day, and her presentation earned her a second-place award. In her presentation, she discussed CSUN’s response to COVID-19 as it relates to health and well being. 

“It was the first time I was presenting my own research so I was very excited,” she said. “I’m planning on attending graduate school there so I thought participating would be a great way for them to learn about me. But I didn’t expect to win second place so it was really awesome.”

Although the research project was conducted during the summer, it still held tremendous value during the ongoing pandemic. As part of the project, Melendez helped gather and record students’ responses to CSUN’s handling of the pandemic. She also helped oversee and host online focus groups to verify the results and write a manuscript that could be presented to the university to serve as a guide on how to accurately help students during this crisis.

“It was a very successful project because students actually felt like CSUN was concerned about their well-being,” Melendez said. “However, the university can still improve which is why the manuscript will be extremely helpful in next semester’s planning.”

Overall, she credits BUILD PODER with being able to help her through her research journey and provide ample opportunities that she likely wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.  

“I feel very grateful that I was able to get into BUILD PODER,” Melendez said. “They gave me guidance, opportunities to have mentors, and because of them I don’t feel lost anymore. And as a researcher, I will continue to help and improve my community.”

Read more about Lorena’s scholarship from the AHA here.

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
Need Assistance? Please contact our support team: info@diversityprogramconsortium.org .