Houston doctoral student Victoria Kwentua, MPH, has been selected as the Fall 2021 Sharma Fellow, supported by the Sharma Endowed Fund for Excellence in Community Nutrition, Health & Wellness at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
In 2017, faculty member and alumna Shreela Sharma, PhD, RDN, along with her husband, Vibhu Sharma, established the $200,000 scholarship endowment, which includes a matching donation from the UTHealth Game Changers initiative. The fellowship program is administered through the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth School of Public Health.
Fellows receive a $2,000 stipend per semester, are eligible for in-state tuition, and work with Brighter Bites, a nonprofit whose mission is to create communities of health through fresh food. Brighter Bites channels surplus produce and nutrition education materials into underserved communities with the goal of changing behavior among children and their parents to prevent obesity and achieve long-term health. The program operates in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Southwest Florida, Washington D.C., and New York City. The competitive fellowship program requires a research commitment of two semesters, at 200 hours per semester.
Kwentua is pursuing her doctorate in health promotion and behavioral sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston with a minor in epidemiology, and a certificate in maternal and child health. She earned a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in maternal and child health from the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth.
“Vibhu and Shreela Sharma have shown their commitment to public health, as well as to students such as Ms. Kwentua, through this fellowship. The student support and related work experiences not only expand Ms. Kwentua’s education, but also increase her skills in community-based nutrition research,” said Deanna Hoelscher, PhD, RDN, director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living and regional dean of the UTHealth School of Public Health Austin campus.
“I plan to use the fellowship funds primarily to expand my knowledge on childhood obesity and nutrition,” said Kwentua. “I am excited to learn about the innovative programs available to address the needs of children who are just beginning their experiences with healthy foods. This is an important time in their health trajectories, and the ability to be a part of this intervention is a privilege.”
“In the past, I have mostly worked on preventing infant and child mortality, so working on the health promotion side is a breath of fresh air. I love to learn new things, and this is one topic that will round out my experiences as a maternal and child health professional and future professor,” said Kwentua. “I think about how many kids I knew growing up who could have benefited from a program like Brighter Bites by learning about nutrition and being open to try new foods. I am excited to learn from the community, as well as provide them with any tools and research they need to continue growing healthy and strong.”
Shreela Sharma is a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health and works with the school’s Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living. She is co-founder of Brighter Bites, alongside Lisa Helfman. Vibhu Sharma is CEO of InnoVent Technology, an automation and digital solutions company for the manufacturing industries.