Future Public Health Leaders: High School Students Shine at Washington, D.C. Epidemiology Competition Finals

Apr 18, 2011, 8:08 PM

Innovations in epidemiology are often showcased in Washington, D.C, but today’s research papers had a slightly younger cast. Sixty high school Regional Finalists from 22 states and Puerto Rico were invited to compete in Washington at the Young Epidemiology Scholars (YES) Competition.

The competition, created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the College Board, gives high school students a chance to present public health research to a panel of leading public health experts and educators who serve as judges.

The top awards were given to Rebecca Leong, 18, a senior at Columbia River High School in Vancouver, Washington. She was recognized for her epidemiological research on injuries associated with the popular trend of barefoot running. Michelle Lee, a junior at North Allegheny Senior High School in Wexford, Pennsylvania, was recognized for her research on MRSA, a superbug infection with a growing impact on high school athletes. Each received a $50,000 college scholarship.

NewPublicHealth spoke with the young winners before they headed home:

NPH: Why did you focus on barefoot running?

Rebecca Leong: I ran cross country for four year and barefoot running has become a growing trend.

NPH: And what did you find?

Rebecca Leong: Shod runners had lower injury rates, so media report of lower injuries among the barefoot runners may not be true.

NPH: What feedback did you get?

Rebecca Leong: My biology teacher was glad I did a research project outside the lab!

NPH: Why a focus on MRSA?

Michelle Lee: I had read about students getting MRSA and even some athletes in my class developed the infection.

NPH: And what were your findings?

Michelle Lee: That students who go to the clinic with a skin infection should be tested for MRSA at a certain point.

(Interview has been truncated and edited.) Listen to the full audio interview with both winners:

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.