Chelsea Garcia ’20 (CAHNR) knew she wanted to spend her life studying nutrition and the science behind the relationship between food and the human body before she even knew it was an actual major. Now she is on track to graduate with an undergraduate degree and with research experience.
“I’ve always been interested in health and food,” Garcia says. “I always incorporated what I learned into cooking. I wanted to learn the science behind the food and its effect on the body.”
Garcia, of Alpine, New Jersey, has always had an inquisitive mind, being the kid who always asked “why?” in her quest to better understand how the world works, she says. This natural curiosity has bloomed into a fruitful research career at the University of Connecticut.
Garcia’s interest in research stared early at UConn when, through the WiMSE (Women in Math, Science, and Engineering) learning community, she talked to Chris Blesso, a nutritional science associate professor who studies ways to prevent cardiometabolic disease through dietary modification.
Fascinated by his research, Garcia began working in Blesso’s lab the summer after her first year through the Bridging the Gap program. She worked to determine the health effects of consuming freeze-dried grape powder after high-saturated fats in adults with metabolic syndrome. Garcia also co-wrote a book chapter with Blesso identifying the relationship between dried fruit and lipids in the blood.
Summer research gave me the opportunity to focus solely on the work. — Chelsea Garcia
When Garcia was named a University Scholar last year, she continued her nascent research career investigating how a microbe from the gut affects neuroinflammation. Being named a University Scholar is a prestigious distinction that allows undergraduates to design and pursue complex research studies or creative projects.
For Garcia, trying to uncover new knowledge is an all-encompassing pursuit. In fact, she has forgone traditional summer breaks and has spent two of her three summers at UConn doing research.
“Summer research gave me the opportunity to focus solely on the work, which was really helpful for my professional development and preparing for grad school,” says Garcia says, who plans to go on to earn her doctorate in molecular nutrition.
“I want to continue to do research and relay those findings to the public with the hopes of having a positive impact,” Garcia says.
Garcia credits programs such as Bridging the Gap, University Scholars, and the McNair Scholars Program, which prepares motivated undergrads for doctoral studies, for helping her find her calling.
“Without these programs, I wouldn’t have been able to be involved in research,” Garcia says.
To other students who want to get involved in research, Garcia says they should put themselves and their ideas out there.
“My biggest takeaway is just apply for anything and everything,” Garcia says. “You never know what you might get.”
Other students interesting in building the connections Garcia used to launch her undergraduate research career should come to the annual Research Connections event on Oct. 16 in the Peter J. Werth Residence Tower from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., as well as the other Month of Discovery events happening this October.