High School Students Celebrate Completion of Texas A&M Health Youth Citizen Scientist Program

MCALLEN, TX (May 25, 2023) – On Saturday, May 20, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. and Texas A&M Health held a special graduation ceremony for the first cohort of high school students who completed the Together for a Better Tomorrow (TBT) Youth Citizen Scientist Program – a key component of the two-year study on water quality in key Rio Grande Valley border communities announced in 2022

The fourteen students that participated in the Youth Citizen Scientist Program received 16 hours of training, including instruction on health risks of exposure to water contaminants and hands-on field study activities in colonias in Hidalgo County.  

Each graduate has been credited with 10 hours of community service, received a Youth Citizen Scientist Certificate from Texas A&M Health, a letter of recommendation for their future academic aspirations, and water filtration systems (such as a filtered water bottle, ZeroWater filter pitcher, and PUR faucet filter). Parents of the students were also awarded a certificate for their contribution to their child’s success in the program – recognizing the work of supporting their children through this educational community project.

“Through engendering a love of learning, these citizen science graduates are well poised to have positive impacts not only for themselves and their communities, but for the field of public health as a whole,” said Garett Sansom, DrPH at Texas A&M University School of Public Health. It has been my honor and privilege to team with Methodist Healthcare Ministries on this project. ”

“The training and resources provided through this project is empowering the students and families as they address the health inequities they face and help their communities thrive,” said Jaime Wesolowski, President and CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries. “We’re a proud partner in this initiative with Texas A&M Health and we’re very excited to see the impact these citizen scientists have made in their local communities.”

The program is supported by organizations and individuals in the community who are dedicated to bringing better health outcomes and serving the people of the Rio Grande Valley through community-based initiatives such as the study on water quality and arsenic levels and the TBT program. These organizations include:  

  • ARISE 
  • Proyecto Azteca 
  • LUPE 
  • Access Clinics 
  • Hidalgo County Precinct 4
  • Hidalgo County Precinct 2 
  • Hidalgo County Precinct 1 
  • Border Workers United 
  • Angie’s Day Spa 
  • Puerta del Cielo Church 
  • South Texas College 
  • Mujeres Unidas 
  • Guajira Clinic 
  • MHM Wesley Nurses 
  • Progreso Fire Department 
  • Mexican Consulate 
  • Buckner International
  • San Juan Advancement Center 
  • Alamo Advancement Center 
  • Progreso Community Resource Center 
  • San Carlos Endowment Center 
  • Community Advisory Boards – PCHAC, CASCO, and HHSC 

The Youth Citizen Scientist Program is part of a two-year dual study launched by Texas A&M Health and Methodist Healthcare Ministries in April 2022 to help communities safeguard their water and health. One component of the study focuses on increasing public awareness of arsenic exposure in the local community. The other is examining the impact of a locally engaged and trained resident population on water security and common resilience in Texas border communities, which became the Citizen Science Program.

The students graduating from the Citizen Science Program came from across the Rio Grande Valley and are in grades 9-12.  The schools that participated in the program include Progresso High School, IDEA Edinburg, PSJA Collegiate School of Health Professionals, PSJA Southwest, IDEA Pharr, Donna North High School, and IDEA Alamo. 

The project is a vital first step in creating a proof of concept that will then be applied throughout the Texas-Mexico border to improve the lives of these often-overlooked communities. 

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About Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.: Methodist Healthcare Ministries broadens the definition of healthcare by providing low-cost clinical care for the uninsured and by supporting community-led efforts that improve living conditions that cause people to be sick in the first place. We use our earnings as co-owners of Methodist Healthcare to ensure that people who are economically disadvantaged and uninsured can live their healthiest lives. We do this by advocating for, investing in and providing access to quality clinical care and addressing factors that affect health—including economic mobility, supportive relationships, food security, broadband access, and safe neighborhoods. Ultimately, we fulfill our mission of “Serving Humanity to Honor God” by advancing health equity so that more resilient individuals & families living in the 74 counties we serve can thrive. 

About Texas A&M University Health Science Center: Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) comprises five colleges (dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy and public health) and several centers and institutes with a shared mission of advancing health care for all. We serve the state and beyond with campuses and locations in Bryan-College Station, Dallas, Temple, Houston, Round Rock, Kingsville, Corpus Christi, and McAllen. Learn more at health.tamu.edu or follow @TAMUHealth on Twitter.

About Together for a Better Tomorrow Program: Program under the direction of Drs. Garett Sansom and Taehyun Roh at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. The program aims to understand and develop solutions to environmental issues in our South Texas (STX) communities in Hidalgo County, in this case water insecurity, by testing and capturing measurements of existing health risks due to exposure to water contaminants, developing solutions for how to reduce the risk of exposure for communities near contaminated water, and collect important data for the community that can be used to implement the necessary practical solutions and train the next generation of citizen scientists and cultivate a love of learning science for students in South Texas.