Nutrition Sciences doctoral student Michelle Cardel received the UAB President's Award for Diversity to a graduate student for her commitment and contributions to diversity on campus. UAB President Carol Garrison recognized outstanding leadership in five categories: faculty and staff plus professional, graduate and undergraduate students.
Combating childhood obesity is Cardel's passion. "Children are still learning dietary habits," said Cardel. "I felt there was more of an opportunity to make a positive and permanent change that they could use throughout their life."
As part of her training, Cardel started to work with the AMERICO study, evaluating the etiology of racial/ethnic differences in obesity and insulin outcomes in a multiethnic sample of children.
"Michelle's charming personality, fully bilingual capacities, commitment to research and public service, and her previous experience working in type 2 diabetes in Hispanic individuals of Cuban-American descent made her a valuable contributor to the AMERICO study," said Jose Fernandez, Ph.D., associate professor in the department who nominated her.
Cardel joined the Jones Valley Urban Farm and volunteered to create different nutrition-related curriculums for inner city Birmingham children aged five to twelve years old. For eight weeks, the children were exposed to fruits and vegetables, received nutrition education and healthy cooking demonstrations that were related to the nutrition lesson taught.
"Many parents reported later that their children had begun asking for healthy foods when they were at the grocery store," said Fernandez. "This project was not part of her degree. It was part of Michelle's commitment to serve minority communities without any compensation in her purpose to bringing equality to all."
Cardel is focusing her dissertation research on evaluating the genetic, environmental, and behavioral predictors of weight gain in children and weight regain following weight loss in adolescents.
"Her scientific work in the Department of Nutrition Sciences reflects her hope to create intervention programs that not only enable children to lose weight, but that address the barriers that cause them to regain the weight," said Fernandez. Cardel has published four papers in scientific journals, two of them as the first author, has three additional scientific papers under review, and has served in multiple local and national committees for scientific enterprises.
In her spare time, Cardel has been a Hospice volunteer for the last eight years, providing respite care for caregivers of terminally ill patients. She often describes that she feels "honored to be able to be with her patients and their families during one of the most intimate times in human life." She looks forward to her weekly visits, often bringing her puppy, Lola Bear, to visit with her patients. Michelle is also involved with volunteering and raising money for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.