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Above and Beyond

September 20, 2018
woman and young woman walking together
Professor and Wyoming Latina Youth Conference Director Cecilia Aragon meets with teen adviser Carmen Leon. The annual conference welcomes hundreds of Latina youth to UW each fall.

UW’s professors benefit the state through research and outreach.

By Micaela Myers

Not long after Carmen Leon moved to Wyoming at the age of 13, she discovered the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference. She loved her first conference so much that she volunteered to become a teen adviser, meeting with other teens and board members to help plan the annual conference at the University of Wyoming. The usually shy 16-year-old even gave eloquent opening remarks at last year’s conference.

Of the annual event, Leon says, “I love the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference because it is an amazing and fun program that inspires and empowers Latinas.”

The Wyoming Latina Youth Conference is one of many ways that countless UW faculty members reach out to communities across the state. Additionally, research into PCOS in the Native American population, fostering entrepreneurship, and the impact of Vitamin D and iodine deficiency provide real benefits to Wyoming citizens.

Reaching Wyoming’s Youth

The Wyoming Latina Youth Conference (WLYC) takes place each October, welcoming hundreds of young women in grades 5–12. The conference serves an important role in helping Wyoming’s Latinas succeed. According to a 2015 report from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Latinas graduate from high school at lower rates than any major subgroup and are also the least likely of all women to complete college degrees.

“WLYC can serve as an educational pipeline for these young girls to build up their self-esteem during the junior high and high school years and to build their knowledge and trust in higher education,” says Professor Cecilia Aragon, who has been involved in the conference since coming to Wyoming in 2005 and took on the director role three years ago.  

The WLYC, which was started 18 years ago by Cheyenne’s Ann Redman, invites young women from throughout Wyoming to gather for two days. On a Friday, they enjoy a reception and inspirational keynote speaker, followed by a full Saturday of workshops at UW.  

“It’s important because WLYC serves as an educational support to many of the disenfranchised Latina youth communities,” Aragon says, adding that it can also help UW in its goal recruit high-achieving students and bring greater diversity to the student body.

Aragon hopes to grow the conference and also to create a leadership team across the state, to foster employment opportunities and to create a support system for conference members who attend UW. 

However, this important outreach isn’t Aragon’s only involvement. Truly a multidisciplinary educator and researcher, Aragon serves as a professor of theater and Latina/o studies and as an associate director in the School of Culture, Gender and Social Justice. As part of her role in the Department of Theatre and Dance, she is the education coordinator, overseeing practicum placement for students seeking their theater education endorsement.

“Every three years I take students to do a service-learning project for disenfranchised youth in Honolulu, Hawaii,” Aragon says. There, they work with a juvenile home for children and Boys & Girls Clubs doing youth theater.

She also publishes widely and has written and contributed to a number of books, including one on indigenous revivalism and how Azteca dance is helping Latino/as to reclaim their indigenous identity. She also guest edited the spring/summer 2017 Annals of Wyoming journal that focused on Latino/as in Wyoming. In addition, Aragon teaches seven courses a year in theater and Latina/o studies, including independent studies and internships. Aragon has also supervised 10 undergraduate senior thesis and graduate independent research projects, served as a faculty mentor for two McNair Scholars and a committee member on 25 graduate committees, and co-chaired seven graduate committees in various disciplines such as curriculum education, Spanish, music performance and social work.

woman talking to student
Assistant Professor Rebecca Carron researches polycystic ovary syndrome in Native American women and other populations.

Studying Women’s Health

Rebecca Carron, assistant professor in the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing, is entering her fifth year at UW. She teaches in three of the nursing programs and conducts research focusing on women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). 

“PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder in reproductive-age women,” Carron says, noting that it can impact fertility and cause higher risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. “It affects approximately one in 10 women.”

However, a proper diagnosis is missed in 50–75 percent of cases, particularly in leaner women. Carron began screening patients for PCOS in her dermatology practice, as the hormone imbalances can cause facial hair and cystic acne. She also studies how Native American women cope with the condition.

“There’s very little information about PCOS in Native American women, so I became interested in what’s going on in the Native population,” Carron says. “There’s such a wide variety in how women with PCOS manifest their symptoms. So how can we provide culturally appropriate care for Native women if we don’t know what’s going on in the Native population?”

Carron is wrapping up an IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE)-funded project studying PCOS in Native American women, including what they’re concerned about and how they wish to manage it. She’s now seeking funding
to develop a management program to go along with what’s been identified.

“They didn’t feel like they’d been given enough information on PCOS, they didn’t feel there was enough community awareness about PCOS, and some of the women wished they’d been identified sooner and could have gotten into treatment,” Carron says. “So I’m looking at a management program that addresses all three of these results.” The program will be patient-centered and will include a tribal awareness week and a screening tool for clinics.

Carron collaborates with fellow professors at UW as well as colleagues at other institutions. Students assist with her research, and she’s presented at nursing conferences to help other professionals identify the condition. “Nurse practitioners are on the front line of diagnosing PCOS in primary care clinics,” Carron says. “They need to be able to pick this up.”

man standing outside
Professor of practice Corey Billington coaches students as they help entrepreneurs and start their own businesses.

Helping Businesses and Students Thrive

When Corey Billington “failed at retirement,” he decided to share his business knowledge with the next generation.

Billington earned his Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University and enjoyed a 20-year career at Hewlett-Packard, managing 16 different departments, including global supply chain procurement, engineering and social responsibility, and trade compliance and education. When he found retirement wasn’t for him, he taught at business and technical schools in Switzerland. His wife is a Wyoming native, and they decided to settle here several years ago. Billington’s next role became professor of practice in entrepreneurship in the College of Business and head of the new Business Creation Factory, a component of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Here are UW, he teaches entrepreneurship and innovation, supply chain management and procurement processes. Through these courses and his involvement with the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, he coaches his students as they help entrepreneurs from across the state and start their own businesses.

“With the undergraduates, I have them all come up with an idea for a new business,” he says of his entrepreneurship class. The students do launch planning and use the lean startup method. Sometimes, that process leads to prototypes and entry into UW’s entrepreneurship competitions.

Billington’s MBA students are paired with entrepreneurs who want to start a business or have a small business they are looking to expand. “Nearly all the clients rate the experience as excellent for advancing their business and quality,” he says.

As part of their experiential learning, students have helped businesses on a variety of projects, including designing a new nonprofit, diversification of services, engaging millennials and streamlining event lodging. Businesses the students have worked with include smaller companies such as Timberline Hospitalities, Bright Agrotech, Camp Guernsey, Wyoming Rescue Mission, Tough Guys, CPA Group of Laramie and HopeHearth, as well as large companies such as Apple, WalMart, Black Hills and Anadarko.

“You get much better learning outcomes when you do experiential learning,” Billington says. “The students absolutely love it because they get real capability, and it’s something they care about. When they’re done, they know they can start a business.”

With the creation of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Billington hopes more Wyoming entrepreneurs will work with UW. Benefits include diversification for Wyoming’s economy, better learning outcomes for students and a test bed for faculty researchers.

two women sitting in the grass with a laptop
Professor Enette Larson-Meyer works with graduate student Jenna Chalcraft on an ongoing study of vitamin D and sensible sun exposure.

Understanding Nutrition’s Role 

Since coming to UW in 2005, Enette Larson-Meyer has taught nutrition coursework and researched the role vitamin D plays in health and overall performance in people who are active. A professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Didactic Program in Nutrition and Dietetics in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, she received the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station’s Outstanding Research Award last December.

One of her current projects involves the guidelines for sensible sun exposure. “We know that for vitamin D, the best way to get it is through the sun,” Larson-Meyer says. “We started two years ago testing the sensible sun guidelines. We studied a group of younger individuals, and now we’re doing individuals 50-70 because there’s some thought that, as you age, the body is less efficient at synthesizing vitamin D from the sun.”

Another study she worked on showed that pigs exposed to an hour of sunlight daily had a higher content of vitamin D in their meat. This is another area she’d like to study further.

Larson-Meyer and her students have also branched out into studying iodine deficiency in humans. “We live in a mountainous area, and there’s rumor that, with water runoff, our soils might be depleted of iodine,” she says. “We’re doing a preliminary study assessing the iodine status of a group of over 100 healthy people living in the Laramie area.” In the process, they’re looking at markers of healthy iodine status including 24-hour urinary iodine and dietary iodine from iodized table salt.

In addition to her research, Larson-Meyer co-directs the reproductive biology interdisciplinary graduate program, is an adjunct professor in kinesiology and health, and gives lectures on nutrition, obesity and exercise for WWAMI program medical students. She’s also an associate editor of the American College of Sports Medicine’s journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, and is the events director for the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Over the past few years, she served on sports nutrition and supplement consensus panels for the International Olympic Committee.

“That’s really fun working with international scientists in the area of sports science/sports nutrition,” she says. “I got to visit the International Olympic Committee site in Geneva, Switzerland.”

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