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Undergraduate Researchers

Emma Rixmann

Emma Rixmann, Social Work

Toddler Obesity Research Prevention Study

Where are you working / researching this summer?

I am working at The University of Maryland School of Medicine, Pediatrics Department, Growth

and Nutrition Division for a research study entitled Toddler Obesity Research Prevention Study (TOPS).

How did you find out about research opportunities for Summer 2011? What is your project?
I found TOPS on craigslist! The program was advertising for a childcare provider to entertain the children while the moms (the study participants) came in for the research evaluations. Since I have a background in public safety (I'm an EMT), they invited me to teach the control portion of the intervention (toddler safety) but soon had me begin teaching the toddler parenting/mealtime intervention as well as the maternal physical activity and nutrition intervention. I did that for a few years. The intervention part of the study ended a few months ago so I am now doing data coding, a totally new experience. We videotaped our participants sharing a snack with their child at three different time points during their participation with us and we are now determining and classifying the maternal feeding behaviors. We will evaluate the data from the videos and participant feeding questionnaires through the lens of feeding-style theories. What is really great is that I was able to observe and assist with the start-up of the coding system, something used throughout qualitative research.

How many places did you apply?
I applied to many places from catering companies to flower delivery companies. I really just needed employment but realized that this experience could lead (and has!) to so much more. Though I did not find TOPS via The Shriver Center, once I started working at TOPS

I approached The Shriver Center and they gave me academic credit. Once I “maxed out” on credits I could earn, they offered to give me a research notation on my transcript for every semester I work, even the winters and summers!

Was this your first research experience? What background did you have before starting this summer research?
I had never done research before nor was I ever interested in research. I was a volunteer EMT and had worked as a clinical assistant at a fast-paced surgical practice throughout high school.

Are there other undergraduates involved in the same research this summer? Who do you work with directly each day?
Yes. I work with graduate students, professional researchers and faculty members. I am the youngest person in the entire division!

What did you gain from this experience?
I learned that no matter what you do, do it to the fullest of your ability and take pride in your work because you truly never know what an opportunity can blossom into. Prior to working as a health educator (my old title), I didn’t even know if I would enjoy teaching others. Thanks to TOPS I have realized I LOVE to teach adults and I’m good at it! With all the amazing experiences I have gained at TOPS, I hope to become a professor and combine teaching and researching.

What is your advice to other UMBC students about summer research?
Start early! No employer is going to laugh at you if you call six months ahead of time to set up an internship. Utilize The Shriver Center. They are the most knowledgeable and helpful entity on campus. Also, never be afraid to ask for more challenging work during your placement! You’ll be surprised the chances people will take on you. I began as a childcare provider and now I am getting some of the best research experience I could have ever asked for!

Can you tell us your major and your plans for the future?
I will be a senior Social Work major and Emergency Health Services minor next year. I am in the process of applying for MSW (Master’s in Social Work) graduate programs and hope to continue on to do my PhD. My interests include forensic social work, criminal justice, public safety, mental health and nutrition.