‘The College of Life’ Shows the Breadth of Offerings in Inaugural Conference

  • Two women stand, one at podium, in front of a screen. Seated audience members are in the foreground.

    Abnous Shahverdi, (at podium) a master's candidate in Public Health, gives a presentation at the inaugural Research, Innovation and Excellence Conference, Nov. 18, 2022. Photo by David J. Hawkins.

There’s always A LOT going on in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD). To share some of the highlights, interim dean Mechelle Best had faculty members give presentations on their research earlier this year to colleagues at a college meeting.

“We have nine departments in the college … and we are doing so much excellent work, from creative art to hard science,” Best said. “For new people coming in, they would be focused on their own department and they would have no idea how their department might connect to other departments.”

After hearing professors’ presentations, Best decided that the larger CSUN community and the local community should learn more about all that happens in HHD — thus was born the college’s inaugural Research, Excellence and Innovation Conference  Nov. 17-18 at CSUN’s University Student Union.

“I thought, having a conference like this would give us at least a day or two to explore more of [the research happening in HHD.]” Best said.

CSUN’s largest college includes everything from Recreation and Tourism Management to Health Administration, Public Health and Nursing. The Departments of Family and Consumer Sciences and Kinesiology offer multiple options and courses of study, including interior design, sustainable fashion and dance.

At the conference opening, dancers from the kinesiology department performed, and CSUN President Erika D. Beck gave welcoming remarks to those gathered for the event. The keynote speaker was medical researcher Vanessa Sanders,  a radiochemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who, in the fight against cancer, is focused on developing personalized medicine using radioisotopes—atoms with unstable nuclei that emit energy—which can be directed to diagnose diseases, treat them, and help save lives. In 2017, she earned a Ph.D. in radiochemistry and—unknowingly at the time—became the first African American woman in the U.S. to do so.

Provost Mary Beth Walker welcomed conference attendees to the second day of presentations.

“I’m very excited about your focus on enriching health and well-being, improving fitness and activity and enhancing community living environments,” Walker said.

Here’s a sample of some of the research presented during the two-day event. Students and faculty presented their work on:

  • the effectiveness and feasibility of a multimodal exercise program with weighted walking poles, for older adults with Parkinson’s disease.
  • the impact of a pilot project to support Black maternal health professionals.
  • A novel resident outreach program that improves street tree planting outcomes in Los Angeles.

For Abnous Shahverdi, a master’s candidate in Public Health, it was her first time presenting an oral presentation at a conference.  She helped gather research for a study on the prevalence of substance use among young adults — particularly when they are making big life transitions. This was part of her work as an intern for the iSTART program, a grant-funded effort on campus that provides rapid HIV and HEP-C testing, as well as resources for substance abuse prevention to CSUN students.

Shahverdi deftly fielded questions from the audience after presenting the study’s findings. Prior to the conference, she was concerned because English is not her first language — but her instructor prepared her well, she said.

“My professor gave me lots of feedback. For example, [they] told me, ‘This question may pop up — prepare a good answer for this one,’ [so] I was not worried.”

Best said she would like to see this conference happen every year, or perhaps every other year, to give the entire campus community the chance to see what’s happening in HHD.


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