Long before graduating high school, Faren White had been thinking about a career in health, thanks to a program of the Jackson Heart Study called SLAM, short for science, language arts, and mathematics. Through the summer workshop she saw investigators doing interesting research, as well as all kinds of jobs related to the biomedical sciences.
She went on to become a Jackson Heart Study scholar, and after graduation from Tougaloo College, she plans on pursuing a career as a pediatric dentist.
One of her first collegiate research experiences as a JHS scholar was studying the impact of biomarkers on cardiac structure in the JHS cohort at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. And while her research did not focus on oral health, White says it did point to a profound connection between heart health and oral health.
“Dental or oral health links to everything in the body,” she explains. “If a person’s oral health is not good, that could be a sign that something else in the body is not working well.” White says she can’t wait to convey this to her future patients. “I figure if I know a bit about biomarkers of the heart, it could tie into how I teach my patients about possible signs and symptoms of diseases that affect oral health.”
As she begins applying to dental schools, White says she is hoping her experiences as a scholar will give her a competitive edge. In addition to her work on heart biomarkers, she spent one summer in Accra, Ghana conducting research on childhood development. She also performed research for two summers at Jackson State University assessing garlic supplementation in the management of acute promyelocytic leukemia—an aggressive cancer where there are too many immature blood-forming cells in the blood and bone marrow.
“My research experiences put me a step closer to reaching my goals and improving the health and wellbeing for the youth in my community,” White says.
Absorbing all that hands-on knowledge while doing well in school, White says, has been no easy feat. But it has been well worth it, she adds, and advises the next wave of JHS scholars to keep their eyes on the prize.
“Students have to juggle between participating in clubs and organizations and going to class,” she says. “It will get hard, but you have to think of the bigger picture and not give up.”