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Spotlight on Metcalf Institute Alumni: Noereem Mena

Mena 180x180Researching, educating, and communicating with others about nutrition is more than a profession—it is a moral obligation for Noereem Mena. Seeing one of her family members struggle with type 2 diabetes motivated the doctoral candidate to study food science at the University of Rhode Island, and continues to inspire her to communicate her research to diverse public audiences.

Mena is an alumna of several Metcalf Institute science communication programs, including SciComm Exchange: Moving Research to Action, hosted at Brown University, and Science Communication Workshop: Writing for Influential Audiences, a daylong workshop that helped participants translate complex scientific information for public audiences, such as journalists and op-ed readers.

“I feel as though there is often a disconnect between what we are doing in research and what’s happening in the real world,” says Mena. “It was good practice to write about my research in a way that the public can understand,” she reflects on her Metcalf training.

Participating in Metcalf’s workshops also helped Mena understand the critical role of language in science communication. “[The trainings] made me realize that there is a fine line between informing people and telling them what to do, and that the language we use to inform people is very important.”

In the early 80s, her family immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic. As a first-generation American, Mena grew up in a bilingual household in New York City, with her immediate family very close by. She spent almost every day with her grandparents who did not speak English. Spending time with her grandparents, she experienced the healthcare system from a different perspective – most providers did not speak her grandparents’ native language. This made Mena realize the importance of translating information accurately and asking the right questions. Mena’s personal experience showed her the value of conducting her own research in Spanish to reach diverse groups of people.

Mena received both a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics and a Masters in Nutrition and Food Sciences from URI. She also completed her dietetic internship, and passed the national registration examination for dietitians in 2014. She’s now a doctoral candidate in the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department’s Community Nutrition and Childhood Obesity Prevention Research Group.

“As researchers, the biggest challenge we have is making sure information isn’t taken out of context, and that our research is being used properly to inform policies,” explains Mena, whose research focuses on improving dietary behavior of preschool-aged children and assessing dietary intake, both within home-based childcare settings and in a child’s home environment.

In 2015, Mena was awarded a National Institute of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Diversity Supplement Grant, which supports students and postdoctoral fellows from underrepresented groups in health-related research.

After completing her PhD, Mena hopes to engage in postdoctoral research related to food policy and to use her science communication skills to support evidence-based decision-making.

“I want to inform and support policies that allow everyone to have the opportunity to make healthy choices.”

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