WSU program helps first‑gen graduate student pursue science to help community

A composite featuring Iniguez standing in front of a 2019 SACNAS conference poster, and another of her next to her research poster.
As a McNair Scholar at WSU, Iniguez attended the National Diversity in STEM conference.

Anaderi Iniguez never pictured herself as a scientist. But as a Washington State University student, she learned about the WSU McNair Scholars Program. This resulted in her first piece of research getting published and the opportunity to help others through her research on teen nutrition and mental health stigmas in the Latine community.

“I don’t think I would have pursued graduate school, or had my current career goals, without McNair,” said Iniguez, who hopes to be a professor after earning her PhD. “The program provided resources, support, and information that would have been impossible on my own.”

The McNair program matches undergraduate students with opportunities to participate in academic research projects and helps prepare them for graduate school.

Iniguez is a first-generation college graduate and daughter of Mexican immigrants who, despite receiving little formal education, always encouraged her to pursue college and take advantage of the opportunities they never had. She came to Pullman because her older sister attended WSU and she had visited the campus a few times in high school.

Iniguez heard about WSU’s McNair program and applied as an undergraduate student majoring in Human Development. The McNair program is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and named for NASA astronaut Ron McNair, who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.

Iniguez, who was born and raised in Pasco, Washington, graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2020 and earned her master’s degree in 2023 from WSU’s Prevention Science program. Her master’s thesis focused on investigating protective factors associated with Latine adolescents’ fruit and vegetable intake. Now she is working on her PhD, with a planned graduation in spring 2025.

Her McNair thesis research was recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Extension. She and her co-authors found that a program where teenagers teach younger children dietary and nutritional information positively impacted the teens’ nutritional knowledge and eating habits.

The paper evaluated the Youth Advocates for Health program, which uses the “teens as teachers” model. Teens show younger youths how to read food labels, talk about what a balanced diet is, and explain why making healthy choices is good for them. As it turns out, the teens listened to their own lessons.

“We found that they ate more fruits and vegetables and increased their own knowledge of dietary nutrition as a result of participating as a teen teacher,” Iniguez said.

The study asked teens to answer survey questions on a variety of health and nutrition topics both before they started, then after they taught the program. The researchers wanted to see what, if any, improvements resulted from their experiences.

“The teens were asked questions about their knowledge, but also their eating behaviors,” Iniguez said. “Most of the knowledge variables improved, as did consumption of fruits and vegetables.”

For her doctorate research, Iniguez is focusing on mental health stigmas, particularly in Latine families, as opposed to nutrition.

“I know from growing up in a Mexican family that there’s a large cultural stigma regarding mental health,” she said. “My parents didn’t understand what being depressed meant and didn’t really believe in it. I want to help Latine families and increase awareness and treatment for mental health issues.”

Few therapists have a Latine background, and many treatment methods aren’t appropriate for her community, Iniguez said. She wants to increase the likelihood of people seeking help when they need it, as Latine populations tend to have lower rates of help-seeking behaviors and treatment utilization compared to non-Latine white populations.

“I want to help adolescents, specifically Latine adolescents,” Iniguez said. “Because when you’re born here and your parents are from another country, there’s an acculturation gap that often leads to increased parent-child conflict, which is known to increase the risk of experiencing depression among adolescents.”

Ultimately, she seeks to help design interventions that educate families about mental health literacy and reduce stigma.

“I want to make sure they’re getting the help they need to succeed.”

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