Xavierite Farhana Islam Places 2nd in NIH Competition

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Contact Info: bwashi15@xula.edu

Image with a photo of Farhana Islam on the left and text under the XULA logo on the right: “Xaveirite Farhana Islam places 2nd in National Institute of Health (NIH) Competition

By Brhea Washington

Xavierite junior Farhana Islam won second place in a STEM competition sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Islam participated in the All of Us Research Program’s Minority Student Research Symposium (MSRS). The symposium’s goal is to address the lack of minority representation in biomedical research by providing a supportive environment that elevates the work of student researchers from underrepresented communities. 

Increasing the number of minority researchers will create diversity, help reduce racial and ethnicity-related disparities and contribute to more significant research innovation. Islam was excited to participate in MSRS, as its purpose aligns with her passion for researching minority communities. 

Islam, a public health major, was inspired to pursue a public health career after witnessing her family’s difficulties accessing proper healthcare resources. In 1995, her parents immigrated from Bangladesh to the United States. She was born and raised in the U.S., and after visiting Bangladesh, she noticed the significant differences in each country’s healthcare systems. 

“The quality of life [in Bangladesh] is a lot different than the U.S. A lot of my relatives there don’t have proper access to healthcare. They experience a lot of air and water pollution and diseases that are not prevalent in the U.S., such as malaria,” Islam said. “I realized public health is not individual, but community-based. I was interested in public health, as I want to do research to find out why certain communities are affected and how I could intervene.”

Islam learned of MSRS from her Xavier mentor, Felicia Wheaton, PhD, an assistant professor in Xavier’s Department of Public Health Science. Due to COVID-19, MSRS was held virtually with over 50 scholars from universities across the country participating by presenting their research and scientific posters.

For her research presentation, Islam researched disparities in the impact of COVID-19. She felt it was important to discuss the virus given its enormous, worldwide implications. Islam shared how participating in MSRS was a rewarding experience, where she learned a lot of new information about minority communities. 

“My mentor and I observed how racial and ethnic minority groups have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 by looking at hospitalization and vaccine rates,” Islam shared. “We focused on social relationships as well, especially in older adults as social relationships have been greatly impacted by COVID-19 due to isolation.”

MSRS also allowed Islam to expand her horizons and provided her with opportunities to interact with scholars worldwide in academic symposiums.

“Through the All of Us MSRS program, I’ve made new connections with people outside of Xavier such as other researchers, mentors, and students,” she said.

Islam went on to place second in MSRS’s undergraduate category. She feels honored and blessed to be a standout student among the large host of other students who participated in the symposium. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my mentor, Dr. Wheaton. She’s been helpful and guided me on how to present and discuss research,” Islam said. 

Islam is thankful to her mentor and the Xavier community for helping contribute to her success.  She currently serves as President of the Muslim Student Association at Xavier. She said that this leadership position allowed her to feel more connected with other students and helps to provide Muslim student representation throughout Xavier’s community. 

As a rising senior, Islam plans to explore the graduate school process and obtain a master’s degree in public health. She also sees herself conducting additional research in the future, hoping to work with local or international health organizations. She is interested in global health, epidemiology and increasing access to healthcare for others worldwide. 

Islam exemplifies Xavier excellence with her dedication to improving health equity. She also emphasizes the importance of diversity when it comes to health research. 

“We need more minority and underrepresented individuals to be part of research because many researchers aren’t minorities,” Islam said. “Our Black, Brown and Latin American communities are affected so much, and not a lot of research is conducted by someone who looks like us, so it’s definitely important to contribute to changing this in the future.”

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.
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