“We are not victims of our genes. We are masters of our genetics.”

I was five years old when I first decided upon my ideal career. Surrounded by classmates who wanted to be pop stars and astronauts, I solemnly claimed that I wanted to be a pediatrician. When I now think back on why I spent such a long period of my life desiring a career in medicine, it dawns on me that I was uniquely interested in pursuing such due to my innate interest in understanding why those who were so closely related suffered from such contrasting illnesses. I had already seen my brother, our parents, and I often suffer from different illnesses, and I could not stop thinking about how to stop the suffering. As I continued through my academic journey, my knowledge of the fields of psychology increased. I was particularly interested in epigenetics, and I became obsessed with understanding how it worked in various aspects that affect physical and mental traits.

            After being introduced to epigenetics during my freshman year of college, it waited until my sophomore year, during an internship at the University of California, Berkeley, where I came into contact with the field of health psychology. The two ideas seemed to go hand-in-hand, especially when we studied how African American populations were at an increased risk for heart disease not because of their ethnicity but because of the toxic stress factors they have faced generationally. I focused my individualized research at Berkeley on a related topic and presented the epigenetic effects of early childhood trauma. Coming out of this research internship refueled my fervor for understanding the relationship between the environment and its biological effects on mental and physical health; therefore, upon returning to the University of Miami, I automatically began looking into local health psychology-related research labs.

            I was fortunate enough to have a laboratory on campus funded by the NIH, piloting a new study called UQUEST. They aimed to implement a strong science and math-based curriculum in Overtown, a historically Black and underprivileged community in Miami. Joining them before installing in-person lessons, I and two other research assistants got to help create lesson plans, data-collection and adapt the lessons to the target population. The program has officially launched upon returning to an in-person format this semester, and our lessons are being implemented in autumn. I have been assigned the lead role with data collection and training new RA’s (who will be teaching the lessons to these students). My experience working for UQUEST over the past year has truly heightened my interest in adding to the body of research on minority populations and focusing on how early childhood experiences can affect health behaviors in later life.

            Outside of UQUEST at the University of Miami and EDLS at the University of California, Berkeley, I worked in two other laboratories. First, the Culture, Psychopathology, and Wellbeing Lab also at the University of Miami. Here we primarily focused on religious and spiritually integrated therapy in treating psychosis disorders in bilingual populations. Additionally, as of this fall, I am working in the Program for Anxiety, Stress, and OCD, wherein I run my studies, upload SCIDs, clean data, and conduct my research on the epigenetic relationship between early childhood trauma and later genetic mutations. I believe that all of these programs provide the fundamental experience that has proven and reinforced my innate passion for the field of health psychology. 

            I believe that East Carolina University is a perfect fit for me, as I am also a perfect fit for them. Not only are they a leading school in the field of health psychology nationally, but the faculty within the Clinical Health Psychology program pose research interests that align near perfectly with my own. From Dr. Campbell’s studies on chronic pain conditions and cancer outcomes relating to my research at Berkeley to Dr. Whited’s studies being almost exactly what I have detailed above, I look forward to expressing and enhancing my pursuits with the faculty my fellow students at ECU. I thoroughly believe that ECU will provide me with a strong basis in pursuing a future career in continuing to study health disparities and epigenetics in their relationship to psychology, as well as using the mastery I gain to work with diverse populations understanding their needs.