An update on the undergraduate and graduate Howell Scholars, and how they conduct their research in the era of COVID.

An update on the undergraduate and graduate Howell Scholars, and how they conduct their research in the era of COVID.

Howell Graduate and undergraduate scholars

The pressing issue with our scholarship program back in March was how COVID would affect the research capabilities of our scholars. Amid the shutdown, the undergraduate and graduate Howell Scholars are persevering in their research efforts. The head of the Foundation’s Scholarship Committee, Dr. Mandy Butler recently gave an update on the Howell Scholars:

“All of the 12 Howell-CSUPERB Scholars had already been working in the lab before their respective campus shutdowns and spent the rest of the spring quarter working on personalized, work-from-home plans with their faculty mentor, presented in virtual lab meetings, and worked with faculty member to prepare abstract(s) to present at conferences and/or meetings or to write manuscripts.”

As for the Howell-UCSD Scholars, all four students had already been working in labs, and most had collected significant amounts of data prior to the campus shutdown. The four students are working on their projects this summer with the guidance of their mentors and Sophia Tsai, who coordinates the summer research program for undergraduates at UCSD. Three of the four students are doing their projects remotely this summer under the guidance of their mentors, either doing data mining projects or analyzing data and writing papers based on the data they had already collected. One student, Michele He, is actually in the lab of her mentor, Pam Mellon. (In order to work in the lab, the student’s mentor had to submit their safety plan to Sophia, who then approved the return of the student to the lab). The UCSD campus still plans to open up in the fall, and thus the other students may also return to the lab then if necessary.”

COVID happened, and research from our undergraduate and graduate scholarship program continues.

While the Howell undergraduate scholars work on their projects in women’s health from the scientific research analysis perspective, the recipients of the USD-Cheryl Wilson Awards in Nursing recipients will be focusing on women’s health from a community-outreach approach with two outstanding projects, both adapting to the “new normal” with telemedicine, data and analysis:

Rebecca Mattson and her project “Online Nutritional Counseling on Gestational Weight Gain for Obese Pregnant Women” is an experimental pilot study aimed at determining the feasibility of using a combination of weekly weights and online registered dietitian counseling to reduce excess gestational weight gain in obese pregnant women. Participants will be gifted a Bluetooth weight scale, and, using a telehealth software called ‘Healthie‘, a registered dietitian will provide nutritional counseling to participants. This is a novel approach and if shown to have clinical significance could reduce maternal morbidity and mortality in this population.

In her project, “The Relationship of Metabolic Syndrome and Health Behaviors among Hispanic Women” Edna Esquer will address gaps in identifying the effects of chronic stress, social support and health promotion behaviors on developing metabolic syndrome among middle-aged Hispanic women. Delay in the identification of metabolic syndrome in this high-risk population misses an opportunity to prevent development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The study will help also include novel factors such as food insecurity, healthy eating habits, as well as measures of acculturation in women living in an under-served community. Currently the understanding of the association between metabolic syndrome and psychosocial factors is limited, especially among Hispanic women, and it represents an important avenue for investigation that may inform early interventions.

The impact of a Howell Scholarship, and how your donations are creating the next pool of physicians and researchers.

August is the time of the year when we hear back from the achievements of the Howell-CSUPERB Scholars. It is always encouraging to know that the donations of so many of our supporters are funding the efforts of the next pool of researchers and physicians in the area of women’s health.

According to Dr. Butler, feedback on the students’ experience as a Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar was extremely positive: ¾ of the students reported that they plan to pursue research opportunities in women’s health in the future, while ¾ of the students will be continuing their education in graduate programs. Scholars will additionally be pursuing career opportunities in biotechnology.

Further conversations with Howell-CSUPERB Scholars exemplify the impact of their research in the future of women’s health. It’s also recognition to the efforts of our donors who continue funding the Howell Scholarship program:

“As a Howell scholar, I had the opportunity to conduct research in my field of interest and further develop my laboratory skills and critical thinking. Working in Dr. Deepali Bhandari’s laboratory enabled me to learn and perform biochemical and molecular biology techniques that will aid me in my future educational career. Along with laboratory techniques, I was exposed to reading and analyzing scientific articles to better understand my project and take informed decisions along the way.”

“Being a Howell Scholar enabled me to develop the necessary skill set for my graduate studies in this field. Another memorable experience I had as a Howell Scholar was the friendships I developed in a very collaborative lab. I interacted with very motivated lab mates with similar interests which made me more scientifically engaged. In addition, all the guidance and support I received from my mentor made this experience enjoyable and very valuable. With her help I was able to develop a better scientific mindset and analytical skills. Lastly, I will definitely remember my experience at The Doris A. Howell Foundation luncheon were I had the opportunity to interact with the donors and with other award recipients.”

“As a Howell Scholar, I saw first-hand the multiple types of barriers, both cultural and logistical, associated with delayed and skipped medical care for women. High costs and a lack of health insurance remain significant barriers for many low-income women. In the psychosocial screening section of the chart abstractions, nearly every woman seen through the Mobile Health Unit was asked whether or not any of the following factors made it difficult for them to receive healthcare services when needed: transportation, language barriers, clinic days/hours, cost of service, fear of healthcare settings, and/or a lack of trust in the healthcare system. Once the data is finalized, I believe that the results will clearly outline disparities present in the healthcare system for such women, particularly in the California Central Coast. While a Howell scholar, my passion for working with disadvantaged women and undocumented immigrants has grown and intensified. I will continue my pursuit concerning the intersection of social injustices and healthcare as I choose a career path.”

Support from the community is fundamental in achieving our mission to “keep the women we love healthy.”  And it starts with research.  We commend our spectacular scholars who continue with their research path!  For more information on our scholarship program, or to make a donation for the future of women’s health, please visit


About the Howell Foundation:

The Howell Foundation advances women’s health by funding undergraduate and graduate research scholarshipsawarding grants to scientists who conduct research benefiting under represented women in the community, and supporting outreach efforts and events that promote health education and self-advocacy for the long-term health and well-being of women, their families and the community in which they live.

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