Krystal Flores, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M Higher Education Center in McAllen, recently received funding that allows her students to develop local public health interventions in the Rio Grande Valley.
Flores initially planned to attend medical school but changed paths after taking a course in border health. Flores said her goal was to mentor students in the importance of public health and help local communities have better access to basic needs, and she was recently awarded funding from the Higher Education Center to do just that.
According to A&M’s Public Health news contributor Vital Record, “The goal of her proposal is to provide funds for students in her Applications of Public Health class to develop and implement two local public health interventions in partnership with local stakeholders in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Flores said she gives her students freedom to choose what topics they will focus on. The proposal, titled “Public Health in Action: Utilizing High Impact Teaching Practices to Address Critical Public Health Issues in the Rio Grande Valley,” looks at helping small neighborhoods that don’t have access to basic public health.
“Each team is responsible for choosing the stakeholders they want to work with, developing an intervention and choosing the public health problem they want to tackle,” Flores said. “[The students] get to wear multiple hats and get experience in developing an intervention within the local community and actually working with local stakeholders.”
One of the interventions focuses on food insecurity in these neighborhoods. Public health senior and intervention participant Belinda Bernal said this intervention focuses on communities that lack easy access to supermarkets. One of the main goals of this project is to host farmer’s markets within these communities.
“We want to focus on rural community health,” Bernal said. “There are a lot of major public health issues, including food scarcity, in these locations. These places are food deserts that are more than 10 miles away from the nearest supermarkets. We want to target one of the most vulnerable populations, which are children and mothers.”
The second intervention is still in the early stages of development. Flores said the students are considering a focus on substance abuse in college-aged populations. Flores, who lacked a mentor she felt represented her, said she is grateful to guide her students in making a lasting influence on their communities. Flores grew up in an area where there were unaddressed public health needs and said her students continue to inspire her to find change for those communities.
“I’m inspired by my home town, my community and my students,” Flores said. “There are so many public health issues here and so many health disparities in the region. I want to improve my community and I want this county to not have the worst health outcomes. I want people to continue to be inspired to come and work in public health down here.”