Mosquitoes Brought Me to Maine: Reflections of a One Health REU Student

By Morelys Rodríguez Alfonso

As a rising junior student at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey, engaging in opportunities outside of my comfort zone is crucial for my interdisciplinary research. As part of the REU ANEW: One Health cohort, I am able to partake in research in the beautiful Orono, Maine. It is here where I discovered my obsession with anything blueberry flavored and met some of Morelys Rodriguez on a standup paddle board on the Stillwater Riverthe kindest, smartest, and unique individuals. I love being at home and enjoying the beaches and so much more. It’s like summer all year long in the paradisiac Caribbean island, so I thought: how would it feel to be somewhere else during this great season? That is why I applied to REU ANEW 2019 at UMaine and was happy to be selected. It has been the best experience of my scientific career by far because it is helping me develop new skills.

For ten weeks I am working on two similar social science and interdisciplinary projects. I am using content analysis, a social sciences research technique in which qualitative data from a textual material is converted into quantitative data in order to analyze the usage of certain terms and concepts, as well as understand how they affect human perceptions about a topic. I am observing how travel agencies, government agencies and mass media messages communicate information about mosquito-borne diseases and how the perception of tourists that plan to visit Puerto Rico varies from the perception of residents of the island in relation to the topic.

Dr. Sandra De Urioste-Stone, my mentor in REU ANEW 2019: One Health program, has also given me the opportunity to do surveys in Acadia National Park as a part of the secondary research project related to tick-borne diseases. The purpose of the project is to understand visitor perceptions of health risk and travel behavior. It has been a great opportunity to interact with the public and develop a new skill at the same time. Having two different projects to work in required effort, but with good time management, and a well-created timeline I am able to accomplish my weekly goals. The key to success has been balance and focus.

There are a lot of things to do around apart from the research project and workshops. I got to experience paddle boarding for the first time and it was amazing! During the academic year, I rarely have time to participate in fun activities, so being offered the opportunity to build unforgettable memories like these really made my experience feel whole. Being part of this incredible program comes with a number of benefits such as spectacular gym facilities, access to rock climbing, swimming pools and who could forget the sauna! My favorite thing to do in Maine is visiting the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. The delicious smell of bread and pastries makes my mouth water every single time!

Being part of REU ANEW 2019: One Health at UMaine has made me feel more prepared to encounter other projects in my career. My future plans are to pursue a joint M.D. and Ph.D. Workshops and weekly meetings with my mentor this summer have provided me with advice not only for future investigations but also for my professional career. As a scientist, collaborations are a vital way to have different professionals approaching diverse aspects of a common conflict. Being part of the UMaine “black bear family” for ten weeks and sharing my summer with amazing undergraduate students from around the country has allowed me to gain knowledge of other cultures and expand my horizons. This is most definitely a summer I will never forget.

Morelys Rodriguez working at a computer

This blog post was authored by a student participating in the Research Experience for Undergraduates – Accelerating New Environmental Workskills program, which is led by faculty in the Initiative for One Health and the Environmental and funded by the National Science Foundation.  Information in this post does not represent the University of Maine or its faculty.