Ana Mendez, a Lamar University dietetics major from Marshall, breaks down language barriers. Her goal is to deliver patients the information they need to stay healthy in a way that is easy to digest.
Mendez’s interest in dietetics came when her mother developed gestational diabetes during a pregnancy. A native of Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico, her mother spoke little English and asked Mendez, who was 14 years old, to interpret for her and her doctors.
“She had to see a nutritionist to help her manage her diet and her blood sugar and insulin,” she said. “I had to translate for her, and I became curious in the field of nutrition. When I came to Lamar, I switched my focus to dietetics because it is a broader field.”
Mendez said the experience with her mother made her realize the need for bilingual professionals in the field to help patients with their diabetes.
“I think it is important to overcome the language barrier, but there are also cultural boundaries as well,” she said. “Some of the terminology is difficult. Even if it is presented in your native language, it can be hard to teach to yourself. It is important to have someone who can interpret the information in a way that the patient can understand and is meaningful. It can be really difficult to process the information and make those changes in your life on your own.”
Mendez first heard about Lamar through her high school health teacher, Caren Wonders. Mendez learned about the dietetics program in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences and found Lamar to be a good fit for her.
In her junior year, Mendez was chosen for the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, which pairs faculty mentors with students to teach the research process and prepare them for graduate school. Mendez presented her undergraduate thesis, “Patients’ Perception of Barriers and Effective Strategies of Diabetes Self-Management in Southeast Texas,” at the McNair Research Symposium at Lamar in November. She conducted her research under the guidance of her mentor Jau-Jiin Chen, associate professor in the department of family and consumer sciences.
“It has really opened doors to me,” she said. “Not only did I learn about the research process, but I got to know myself and what I really want to do after graduation. It’s made me realize my potential and how much I like learning and doing research.”
Mendez said her McNair research helped her to solidify her goal to work in diabetes education.
“There is still a lot of research that needs to be done on how to effectively communicate with the patients and help them understand the disease,” she said. “A lot of participants in my research said that they didn’t really understand what the disease is. So making the language more accessible to patients would help them get a better grasp on what they are dealing with.”
Mendez also participates in the Lamar University Honors Program and is a Student Support Services member and secretary of the Lamar chapter of Kappa Omicron Nu, the honor society for family and consumer sciences. She is also a member of the Lamar University Student Dietetics Association and the American Association of Diabetes Educators and works as a referrals coordinator at the Joslin Diabetes Center Affiliate at Southeast Texas Medical Associates.
When Mendez isn’t hard at work on her studies, she likes to spend time outdoors playing her favorite sport.
“I guess I could say the outdoors is my happy place,” she said. “I've played soccer since I was 10, so just as long as I have a ball and a net I am happy.”
After graduation, Mendez plans to work in an internship program while she attends graduate school.
“The internship works on a matching system, so I will go to graduate school wherever my resident internship is set up,” she said.
Mendez hopes to work as a Certified Diabetes Educator.
“In the end I would really like to set up my own diabetes education program in a community where it is really needed,” she said. “The need is more common among minority groups, so probably in a community with a higher minority population. Hopefully I will be able to enhance public knowledge about diabetes and how to keep it manageable.”