NIMHD Fellows’ Influence Extends to NIH’s 2024 Postbac Poster Day and Beyond

NIMHD’s 2024 postbacs stand with their mentors on a staircase
NIMHD postbac fellows with their mentors and supporters at the 2024 NIH Postbac Poster Day. Left to right: First row - Kelvin Choi, Ayesha Azeem, Faustine Williams, Manoj Kambara, Bambi Jewett; Second row - Vincent Lam, Kristen Moseley; Third row - Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez, Maryam Elhabashy, Breanna Rogers; Fourth row - Paula Strassle, Yangyang Deng, Kosuke Tamura, Allana T. Forde; Fifth row - Jinani Jayasekera, Mohammad Moniruzzaman, David Adzrago; Sixth row - Sherine El-Toukhy, Ruth Hailemeskel; Seventh row - Katie Wojcik, Melanie Sona; Eighth row - Oliver Wilson, Sydney Barlow; Ninth row - Erin Liedtke, Anthony (AJ) Johnson

Hundreds of postbac fellows recently filled the Natcher Conference Center for NIH’s 2024 Postbac Poster Day. Among them were 11 NIMHD early-career researchers already advancing understanding of minority health and health disparities research.

The annual symposium gives first- and second-year postbac fellows an opportunity to showcase the health disparities research they’ve been working on, along with their NIMHD mentors and research teams, to the broader NIH community. In 75-minute blocks, the fellows succinctly summarize their research findings and report their objectives, methods, results, and conclusions to groups of visiting colleagues and science enthusiasts.

“As always, I am very impressed by the research presented by our postbaccalaureate fellows on Postbac Poster Day,” Dr. Kelvin Choi, NIMHD acting scientific director, said. “The fellows did a fantastic job. Their presentations are a testament to their dedication to reducing health disparities in our country through research, the successful mentorship they have received from our intramural investigators, and NIMHD’s unwavering commitment to the next generation of health disparities researchers.”

The fellows were judged on their posters and presentation skills by a panel of graduate students, postdocs, staff scientists, and clinicians who served as judges.

In this article, we highlight the research of three NIMHD postbac fellows. All NIMHD postbacs, their poster titles, and mentors are listed below.

Tobacco Product Use More Common in Biracial and Multiracial Than Monoracial Asian Adults

Ayesha standing in front of her poster wearing black pants and a white top pointing to a chart she is explaining to a judge who is looking at the chart
At NIH’s 2024 Postbac Poster Day, NIMHD postbac fellow Ayesha Azeem (right) summarizes her research about tobacco product use among multiracial Asian populations with judge Tryston Metz.

NIMHD Fellow Ayesha Azeem (Stony Brook University, ′23) worked with Choi in his Tobacco Related Disparities and Control lab and is the first to study tobacco product use among multiracial Asian populations in the United States.

“How cigarette smoking and e-cigarette use vary among people who identify as monoracial, biracial, and multiracial Asians has never been studied in the United States.,” Azeem said. “Most tobacco research focuses on Black Americans, and as the United States becomes more diverse, it’s important to study how use patterns differ.”

Particularly interested in tobacco product use among Asian adults who tend to smoke less often than other racial and ethnic groups, Azeem analyzed data from the 2003 to 2019 Tobacco Use Supplement to the Current Population Survey that tracks tobacco product use in the United States. After categorizing Asian Americans into three groups: monoracial (non-Hispanic Asian only), biracial (Asian and one other racial group), and multiracial (Asian and two other races) she discovered more cigarette use across all groups compared to e-cigarette use.

Cigarette and e-cigarette use was more prevalent among Asian individuals identifying as biracial (13.9% and 2.9%, respectively) and multiracial (15.5% and 4.4%, respectively) compared to monoracial (7.5% and 0.9%, respectively). Azeem also found that these differences persist even after accounting for age, income, education, and nativity (i.e., U.S.-born or naturalized citizen vs. non-U.S. citizen), suggesting that other factors are at play.

“A large portion of Asians in the United States are immigrants, and smoking is less common in their home communities as it is here,” Azeem explained. “I’m hoping my research can provide the necessary information to develop cessation interventions for vulnerable populations in need.”

Azeem will return to Stony Brook University (SBU) this fall for medical school, where she will focus on women’s health and community health. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at SBU in 2023.

Community Solidarity May Alleviate Depression in Disinvested Neighborhoods

Breanna standing in front of her poster wearing pink pantsuit pointing to a chart she is explaining to Faustine who is looking at the chart
NIMHD postbac fellow Breanna Rogers (left) explains her research on the mental health benefits of community solidarity in disinvested neighborhoods to NIMHD researcher Faustine Williams at NIH's 2024 Postbac Poster Day.

According to NIMHD fellow Breanna Rogers’ (UNC-Greensboro, ′23) research, people with lower incomes could benefit from community solidarity, which may buffer the severity of depression.

“About 18.5% of American adults have a depression diagnosis, and 16% live below the federal poverty line,” Rogers said. “Not everyone has access to the mental health care they need.”

Describing her research as an interdisciplinary blend of clinical psychology, community psychology, sociology, and public health, Rogers and her team working in Dr. Kosuke Tamura’s Socio-Spatial Determinants of Health lab analyzed data on income, perceived neighborhood social cohesion (as community solidarity), and depression from the Midlife in the United States 3 study to examine whether social cohesion in a person’s community could buffer severity of depression.

“Our research indicates people from lower income backgrounds who reside in communities with strong solidarity tend to have a lower risk of depression,” Rogers explained. “This underscores the crucial role of community initiatives and efforts to enhance social connections among residents, such as local gatherings, group exercise, gardening, and music events.”

According to Rogers, these activities could increase social ties, improving depressive symptoms among residents in disinvested communities.

“These efforts are especially helpful for social isolation, which is a huge part of depression,” she added.

Rogers graduated from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in sociology. She plans future research that blends her interests in intersectional identities and emotion regulation with neighborhood and community-level research. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical or applied social psychology.

Minority Women Who Are Breast Cancer Survivors Not Reaping Benefits of Exercise

Katie standing in front of her poster wearing a black floral dress explaining her research to two researchers who are looking at her poster
NIMHD postbac fellow Katie Wojcik (left) summarizes her research at NIH's 2024 Postbac Poster Day, which focuses on breast cancer survivors not getting enough exercise and the barriers they face.

Exercise is vital to reduce treatment-related side effects, morbidity, and mortality among female breast cancer survivors, but according to NIMHD fellow Katie Wojcik’s (WUSTL, ’23) research, most survivors aren’t getting the amount of exercise recommended by The American Cancer Society (ACS) and other organizations.

The ACS recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two weekly muscle strengthening sessions.

“Less than 54% of breast cancer survivors meet aerobic guidelines, while only 12% meet muscle-strengthening guidelines,” the epidemiology and biostatistics M.P.H. graduate from Washington University in St. Louis explained.

As part of the Health Equity and Decision Sciences Research lab led by Dr. Jinani Jayasekera, Wojcik led an investigation of exercise rates among women who are breast cancer survivors by race, ethnicity, income, housing, insurance status, and education.

“We found that American Indian and Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic women and women with lower income and less than a high school education meet the ACS guidelines less often than the overall population of survivors,” Wojcik explained. “We think various socioeconomic factors limit the women’s ability to engage in exercise.”

People with lower incomes may not have access to fitness facilities, flexible work arrangements, and access to childcare that help to support their adherence to exercise guidelines. There’s a history of redlining that could also have an impact on access to safe neighborhoods to engage in exercise.”

Public health investments that include targeted interventions and clinical decision tools, incorporating exercise into cancer survivorship care, are needed to increase exercise participation among breast cancer survivors.

During her second year with NIMHD, Wojcik plans to work on various statistical analyses and simulation models to help develop a clinical decision tool that will help incorporate physical activity into breast cancer survivorship care.

NIMHD’s 2024 Postbac Fellows

Ayesha Azeem
Differences in Prevalence of Current Cigarette and E-Cigarette Use Among Monoracial, Biracial, and Multiracial Asians
Stony Brook University (New York)
Mentor: Dr. Kelvin Choi

Sydney Barlow
Discrimination, Racial Socialization, and Hypertension Among Black Adults in the U.S.
Carnegie Mellon University (Pennsylvania)
Mentor: Dr. Allana T. Forde

Maryam Elhabashy
Sex Differences in Psychological Distress Among U.S. Adult Immigrants
University of Maryland, Baltimore County (Maryland)
Mentors: Dr. Faustine Williams, Dr. David Adzrago

Ruth Hailemeskel
Healthcare Discrimination and Hypertension Among U.S.-Born and Foreign-Born Black Adults in California
College of William and Mary (Virginia)
Mentor: Dr. Allana T. Forde

Manoj Kambara
Increasing Representativeness in the All of Us Cohort Using Inverse Probability Weighting
University of Florida (Florida)
Mentor: Dr. Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez

Vincent Lam
Discrimination Drives Health Disparities in the All of Us Cohort
Cornell University (New York)
Mentors: Dr. Leonardo Mariño-Ramírez, Dr. King Jordan

Erin Liedtke
Looking Beyond the Extreme: Exploring Associations Between Moderate Temperatures and Cardiovascular ER Visits
University of Colorado Denver (Colorado)
Mentors: Dr. Shannon Zenk, Dr. Kelly Jones

Breanna Rogers
How Is Income Associated With the Relationship Between Perceptions of Neighborhood Social Cohesion and Depression?
University of North Carolina at Greensboro (North Carolina)
Mentor: Dr. Kosuke Tamura

Melanie Sona
Access to Recreational Cooling: A Multicity Analysis of Pool and Splashpark Availability
University of Wisconsin - Madison (Wisconsin)
Mentors: Dr. Shannon Zenk, Dr. Kelly Jones

Michael Wakeman
Gamifying Attentional Bias Modification: A Qualitative Assessment of Low Socioeconomic Smokers’ Perceptions of a Mobile Smoking Cues Training Game
Johns Hopkins University (Maryland)
Mentor: Dr. Sherine El-Toukhy

Kaitlyn Wojcik
Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Disparities in Meeting Exercise Guidelines Among U.S. Breast Cancer Survivors
Washington University in St. Louis (Missouri)
Mentor: Dr. Jinani Jayasekera

Page published June 27, 2024