Environmental Factor, May 2005, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Jamie Bell Wins $20,000 Scholarship
Jamie Bell is a typical teen in some aspects, especially when it comes to doing things herself, like her entry in the Young Epidemiology Scholars competition. She chose her topic, researched it, collected her data, and then consulted her dad.
The daughter of Doug Bell, a senior investigator in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, Jamie did not want to design a project like her father would. Parents of teens know that translates to: "I am my own person, and I can make my own decisions, thank you." While the attitude might be typical for a teen, the level of success in her independent venture is not.
Jamie's success speaks for itself: she won a $20,000 scholarship, taking third place among some 650 entries in the nationwide Young Epidemiology Scholars competition.
Her project looked at the accuracy of physical fitness assessment based on body mass index. "The Freshman Nutrition and Exercise Study" looked specifically at the eating habits, exercise patterns and body composition of high school freshmen, tracking changes in the percentage of body fat.
Doug Bell noticed the announcement from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which sponsors the Young Epidemiology
Scholars contest, and urged his daughter to enter last year. She took it from there, consulting with two of her teachers at Jordan High School in Durham. Last summer, she began collecting data. Her father said he knew nothing about her study until she asked him for money to buy a body fat scale, which uses electrical current to determine how much body mass is fat and how much is muscle. She later asked for some tips on using Excel that would allow her to use formulas to analyze data. That, Doug said, was about all the information he had until she the day before the project was due, when she asked her parents to review it. "She put the whole thing together without any involvement from me," her father said.
Jamie's project was one of 60 chosen as regional finalists who presented and defended their work in Washington, D.C. in April. After a day of presentations to a panel that included some of the nation's leading epidemiologists, the judges make their choices, and invited 12 finalists to return to make additional presentations. "It was more exciting to hear that I had made the cut from 60 to 12 people," Jamie said. "That's like them telling you that your work is good enough to hear again."
As for dad, he says it was wonderful to see how many kids are interested in studying public health problems. He said the experience helps the kids establish the value of serving the public. "My hope is that Jamie and these other kids will be able to get involved and help solve some of these problems," Doug Bell said.
An athlete, Jamie knows that muscle weighs more than fat. But the Body Mass Index uses height in relation to weight - rather than body fat - to determine physical fitness. "I don't think BMI should be used as a primary tool to measure health, and it's nice to have some data to support that" she said.
Her research showed that some participants had large increases in their body fat over a 2 ½ month period, which could have health implications for them later in life.
The path to a career in science for Jamie, until now, has been paved with small steps, including the NIEHS Summers of Discovery Program, internships at Duke, and even the Take Your Child to Work Day at NIEHS. (See related story on Take Your Child to Work Day: Take Your Child to Work Day a Big Success - Again)
She recalls that she became very interested in a career in medicine when she was in sixth grade. She broke her leg and was treated by an orthopedic surgeon. That doctor obviously made an impact. Not long after that, she attended the NIEHS Take Your Child to Work Day, where she said she was for the first time exposed to more in-depth biomedical research. In the summer of 2004, while participating in the Summers of Discovery program at NIEHS, Jamie learned about secondary data analysis with Stephanie London, and later that same summer, working with CODA, a contactor handling part of the NIEHS Sister Study, Jamie learned about the paperwork involved in conducting studies of people. She spent a summer in a cancer immunology lab as part of Duke University's Summer on the Edge program. There, she was allowed to conduct her own research. That same summer, she shadowed a Duke oncologist for several days.
This fall, Jamie will enter Duke University to study biomedical engineering. She plans to go to medical school, and eventually specialize in - yep - orthopedic surgery.
A list of the national winners and finalists and their winning entries is at: http://www.collegeboard.com/yes/fs/winners_0405.html.