Early exposure to research fueled Akinniyi’s passion for discovery
May 31, 2023
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Exploring a lifelong passion. Discovering a potential career path. Building new knowledge.

These are opportunities that college can present to any undergraduate, but for the University of Georgia students participating in CURO, they do it all through research.

CURO—the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities—connects students with research opportunities across campus. It is open to all undergraduate students, no matter their major, year, or level of research background. As long as participating students are ready to embrace intellectual curiosity, explore new topics, and even travel the country, CURO can enhance their undergraduate experience.

And for some CURO students, research proves lifechanging.

Sherifa Akinniyi saw the impact of nutritional sciences first-hand in high school when her mom faced several health complications.

“We didn’t have a physician or someone I could turn to for more information on obesity or hypertension,” she says. “I had to look up a lot of information myself through the NIH, CDC, and scientific papers. That was the first time I really did extensive research.”

She used that research from the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a dietary plan, and her mother’s health improved. It also set her on a path forward at UGA.

“When I applied to UGA, one of the big things for me was determining what major would capture my personal experience and my interests,” Akinniyi says. “I didn’t want to go the conventional route as a pre-med student, and after meeting with the Department of Nutritional Sciences, I knew this was the right path.”

She found faculty mentor Sina Gallo, an associate professor and clinician-scientist in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and chose to study lactation support services and breastfeeding rates across Georgia. The topic combined her knowledge in statistics with her interest in minority health and health disparities.

Through CURO and funding from the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, she examined the state’s lactation resources, as well as their accessibility and utilization across communities.

“My biggest goal was to provide a visual of what’s going on with Georgia,” she says. “I can spit out all of these facts and provide all of this math, but the whole point is to reach an audience: Georgia citizens and health care providers. I want the public to understand what I’m talking about.”

In addition to data collection graphing where resources are utilized and categorizing potential obstacles to access, Akinniyi built a map of existing resources and the factors that impact their effectiveness.

“Research is never really complete, but this data is a great way to see what’s going on. We see trends, and that data is the catalyst for more knowledge,” she says.

This article is written by Erica Techo, a writer with the UGA Division of Marketing and Communications, and is excerpted from the summer issue of the University of Georgia Magazine. The full article can be seen here.