Postbaccalaureate Poster Days 2022 Showcase the Work of NIMHD Intramural Research Trainees

Portraits of 13 NIMHD research trainees who presented at the 2022 NIH Postbaccalaureate Poster Day
Left to right. Top row: Chelsea Truong, Camryn Edwards, Cameron Ormiston, Koya Ferrell, Stephanie Ponce, Kiana Hacker. Bottom row: Stephanie Quintero, Phillip Hegeman, Charlotte Talham, Judy Nanaw, Kevin Villalobos, Miciah Wilkerson, Gabrielle Zuckerman

The NIH Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award Program is a 1- to 2-year research program for postbaccalaureate students, or “postbacs”—recent graduates who have earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees. The program connects each postbac to a project in one of NIH’s more than 1,100 laboratories and research studies throughout its institutes and centers. Each postbac student is mentored by a principal investigator leading their project. At NIMHD, there have been 27 postbacs since 2016.

Each spring, the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) organizes poster sessions for postbacs at NIH to present aspects of their research to peers and review panels—selected teams of graduate students, postdoctoral students, and staff scientists who serve as preceptors. The event provides an opportunity for these early scientists to formally share their work on NIH projects while developing presentation, communication and networking skills.

Virtual Postbac Poster Days for 2022 took place from April 26 through April 28. Postbacs from NIH institutes and centers presented 935 posters on projects they conducted with NIH faculty as mentors. Twelve of the trainees were supervised by lead investigators in NIMHD’s Intramural Research Program (IRP), led by Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research Anna M. Nápoles, Ph.D., MPH. In addition, a trainee in the NHLBI lab of NIMHD Director Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable presented her research on U.S. Latinos and smoking. “Our postbaccalaureate fellows did an excellent job presenting their work in an online setting and fielding questions from attendees. We are so proud of their accomplishments and potential to improve health equity in the U.S.” says Nápoles.

This year, three NIMHD postbacs in the Nápoles lab presented their research, with Paula Strassle, Ph.D., MSPH, assisting as preceptor during the poster sessions. Stephanie Quintero, a second-year postbac who graduated from Dartmouth College, analyzed the race and ethnicity-specific effects of breastfeeding information on breastfeeding initiation and duration. Her team found that information from family, friends, and support groups were consistently associated with breastfeeding initiation and duration across all racial and ethnic groups, but effects were smaller among Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic women in the study versus White women.

Miciah Wilkerson, a first-year postbac from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, studied the effects of racial residential segregation on Black adults’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. His team found that the nearly 50 percent of Black/African American adults who lived in major metropolitan areas experienced depression and anxiety, loneliness, and perceived stress during the first year of the pandemic. Living in a highly segregated city was associated with higher odds of loneliness during the pandemic, and at least 1 in 5 study participants reported moderate to severe psychological distress.

Stephanie Ponce, a first-year postbac from Rice University, assessed racial, ethnic and other sociodemographic disparities in delayed health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her team found that 20 percent of study participants reported delaying health care in 2020. American Indian/Alaska Native and multiracial participants were more likely than White participants to experience delayed care. In addition, participants who were uninsured, identified as transgender or non-binary, and/or had limited English proficiency were more likely to have health care delays.

Koya Ferrell, a second-year postbac from Georgetown University, works in the lab of Sharon H. Jackson, M.D., M.H.Sc. Her research, continued from 2021, examined the effect of perceived care on health behavior during the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, among individuals with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart and respiratory disease. Her team found that, unexpectedly, individuals reporting high levels of perceived care from parents, teachers, and peers during adolescence were no more likely to have had a routine checkup in the past year or to have sought medical care when needed than those who did not report high levels of perceived care.

Three postbacs in the lab of Faustine Williams, Ph.D., MPH, M.S., also presented posters. Charlotte Talham, a second-year postbac from the University of Florida, studied the role of national origin in the relationship between food insecurity and poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. As demonstrated in existing literature, the lab found that food insecurity was positively associated with poorer mental health. The researchers expected to find greater food insecurity, and thus poorer mental health, among non-U.S.-born participants; however, the lab’s survey from May 2021 to January 2022 demonstrated that U.S.-born individuals experienced greater food insecurity and poorer mental health, although the associations between food insecurity and poorer mental health was reduced among the non-U.S.-born participants.

Kevin Villalobos, a second-year postbac in Dr. Williams’ lab from California State University, Los Angeles, and co-mentored by postdoctoral fellow Francisco Alejandro Montiel Ishino, Ph.D., MPH, examined the association between discrimination and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, and its impact on mental health, during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the study, Hispanic/Latino people had the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Villalobos’ team found that Hispanic/Latino females under age 58 who experienced discrimination were more likely to need screening for major depressive disorder than Hispanic/Latino males of that age, or Hispanic/Latino people of either sex older than 58.

Cameron Ormiston, a first-year postbac in Dr. Williams’ lab from the University of California, San Diego, also co-mentored by Dr. Francisco Alejandro Montiel Ishino, studied the association between COVID-19-related discrimination and mental health symptoms among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) adults. Asian American adults have reported higher levels of mental health symptoms than White adults during the pandemic. Forty-two percent of the project’s study sample of 543 AAPI adults reported experiencing COVID-19-related discrimination; those reporting monthly discrimination had 150% higher odds of developing negative mental health outcomes; those reporting weekly or more discrimination were 7 times more likely to experience depression or anxiety.

Two students in the lab of Allana Forde, Ph.D., MPH, made poster presentations. Judy Nanaw, a first-year postbac from George Mason University, studied racial and ethnic differences in the associations between distrust in the U.S. health care system and unwillingness to test for and get vaccinated against COVID-19. Among 5,500 American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, White, and multiracial survey participants during January to March 2021, low or medium trust in the U.S. health care system was associated with greater unwillingness to test and vaccinate. White participants were least likely to have low trust in the health care system, but associations between distrust, testing, and vaccination were still high among those who did.

Camryn Edwards, a first-year postbac from the University of Maryland, College Park, examined skin color discrimination and prevalent cardiovascular disease among African American participants in the Jackson Heart Study. Results from this project could lead to the development of culturally competent health care geared towards African American experiences and new policies and strategies to eliminate structural barriers that foster discriminatory practices.

In the lab of Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., MPH, Kiana Hacker, a second-year postbac from the University of Maryland, College Park, examined the associations between race and ethnicity, hearing about policy brutality against minority racial/ethnic groups, concerns about being victims of police brutality, and changes in cigarette use. Her team found that hearing stories of police brutality was associated with concern for being victims for Black, Asian, Hispanic, and White individuals; the association was strongest for Black individuals. An incremental increase in concern was associated with a 1.05-a-day increase in the number of days smoking cigarettes within the past month.

Two postbacs in the lab of Sherine El-Toukhy, Ph.D., M.A., presented posters. Phillip Hegeman, a second-year postbac from the University of Missouri-Columbia, presented a proposed study using digital wearables to collect physiological data to understand the clinical course of long and chronic COVID-19 in diagnosed patients. First-year postbac Gabrielle Zuckerman from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill presented a study evaluating the usability of two versions of the NCI QuitGuide smoking cessation mobile application. Results will allow for the optimization of the newer version prior to its launch.

Chelsea Truong, a first-year postbac from the University of California, San Diego, works in the lab of the NIMHD Director Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and is studying biochemical differences between U.S. cigarette smokers and nonsmokers by national background among U.S. Latinos. Both Dr. Pérez-Stable and Staff Scientist Erik J. Rodriquez, Ph.D., MPH, were preceptors at her poster session. Her work found that smoking behavior and frequency differed by race, ethnicity, and heritage, as measured by concentration “cut points” of two widely used biomarkers distinguishing smokers from nonsmokers. People of different races have different cut points, according to the most recent research from 2009; for instance, African American smokers have higher biomarker concentrations and cut points than Latino and White smokers. But with a trend towards lighter and non-daily smoking behaviors, these cut points may need more granular measures to detect these lighter smokers. This study found that Cuban and Puerto Rican cigarette smokers were more likely to have high concentrations of the biomarkers and high cut points compared to other Latino groups.

The NIMHD Intramural Research Program supports these postbac scholars as they work toward a biomedical research career in which they will ultimately lead their own projects. The Poster Days give them an opportunity to deliver formal presentations, respond to questions about their research, and receive feedback from reviewers and peers. This year, NIMHD IRP postbacs Talham, Zuckerman, and Quintero, all from the Division of Community Health and Population Science, received Outstanding Poster Awards for authoring posters that a panel of researchers scored in the top 20% of all posters presented.

Page updated May 1, 2023