Research Keeps it FRESH for Exercise Science Major

May 22, 2023

Cate Alvaro

Senior exercise science major Cate Alvaro ‘23 remembers the moment she was sold on the Milken Institute School of Public Health for her undergraduate degree. “When I toured campus, they brought us into Milken and down into the exercise and nutrition science labs. We were able to see all the different equipment and how they were using it for a variety of research studies. I remember being really excited about that and wanting to get involved in research.”

Fast-forward four years, and Alvaro is using that very same lab and its equipment to collect data for the FRESH study, which stands for fitness, rest and energy for strength and health. She is part of a team of undergraduates working with Dr. Jennifer Sacheck, FRESH’s principal investigator, to establish a longitudinal cohort study of undergraduates to better assess health behavior changes and related health outcomes.

“Dr. Sacheck was excited to work with undergraduate students and involve us in research,” Alvaro explains. “We created the FRESH study from the ground up with her to learn more about the health behaviors of college students, how they may change over the course of their time at GW and how this may impact their longer-term health outcomes.”

The team conducted a pilot study last year and is doing another round of data collection this year. Though results are preliminary, “we’ve already found a couple of concerning things,” Alvaro explains. “Students’ stress levels are pretty high. We also found that fruit and vegetable consumption was below the recommended daily allowance. We’re interested to see how that may change with the addition of the new dining hall on campus.” Alvaro is also using some of the FRESH data for her departmental honors thesis. “I’m looking at some of the data from a different angle—at the possible relationship between contracting COVID-19 and perceived cardiorespiratory fitness.”

Alvaro says she got involved with research as an undergraduate as a way to “explore the things that I was learning in my classes on a deeper level. I wanted to find out more about the research process, because I’m going to medical school next year, so I plan to stay involved in research.

The FRESH study has taught me a lot about how research is conducted because we had to go through the whole IRB [institutional review board] approval process. A big part of my role on the FRESH team is to code data into Redcap, which is how we collect the data and program the surveys. I had to teach some of the other research assistants on my team how to use this software. So not only have I learned a lot about research, but I’ve also learned how to train people and work on a team.”

Alvaro notes that the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Science stands out “for the way professors go above and beyond to connect with their students,” she says. “Faculty spend a lot of time making sure their students really understand the material that we’re learning in class and then have opportunities to explore career interests. The program does a really good job of preparing you for your next step.”