4th year, Nutritional Sciences Major with a focus on Metabolism and Physiology
This month's Student Spotlight showcases Javier Arias-Romero, a senior with a passion for healthy living and proper nutrition, which have shaped his studies in Nutritional Sciences as well as his work outside the classroom; Javier volunteers regularly at Kids In Nutrition, a program that teaches children proper nutrition, as well as at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
Photo by Natalea Schager.
What led to your interest in studying metabolism and physiology?
My interest in nutritional sciences grew from my personal struggle to maintain a healthy weight. During my freshman year of high school, my doctor told me that my weight had reached a dangerous point. I decided to turn my life around, and I began extensive research into nutrition and started following the basic principles of healthy eating. The more progress I saw, the more motivated I was to stick to my diet and keep eating well. After I had lost close to 100 pounds, I began focusing on other elements of my health, such as building muscle and being more physically active.
I decided to pursue nutritional sciences as a major at UC Berkeley because it would fulfill my personal interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle while also satisfying the requirements to enter medical school, which is my ultimate goal.
How has your major prepared you for the next steps in your career?
The NST major helps me fulfill the course requirements I need to apply to medical school. Additionally, the major includes several other classes that expose students to interesting concepts that are relevant to premed students and provides many priceless opportunities to work in a laboratory setting.
As graduation approaches, I have been reflecting on my years at Cal, and I realize how much my time here has helped me develop as a student, and as a person. I feel that I’m equipped with the tools I need to succeed on the MCAT exam and eventually in medical school, and I have also been able to develop my nutrition-based lens for building a healthy life.
What kinds of research projects have you contributed to while studying at Berkeley?
I’m a research assistant in Professor Fei Xu’s Early Learning Lab, which investigates child cognitive development. One of the projects I worked on in Dr. Xu’s lab examined kindergarteners’ ability to understand STEM concepts in a science museum setting. The study took place at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, and I was responsible for building stimuli that replicated some basic physics concepts. We built a ramp that had sandpaper on one side and smooth wood on the other and rolled a car down each side to demonstrate the concept of friction. After the study, we put together a report that can assist museum staff with improving curriculum for their young scientist STEM program.
I have also been responsible for editing study methodology and stimuli production with other projects in the lab. For a study entitled “Positive Effects on Emotion,” we investigated whether positive emotions could induce more curiosity in children. As part of the methodology, we put together a children's story that had several curiosity plot points to encourage questions from participants. I worked on another study that investigated the correlation between children's curiosity and competence with mathematics. My fellow research assistant, Gregory Mocsary, and I built an object using Arduino software and hardware that was essentially a "mystery" toy. Pulling or pushing certain elements of the toy cause it to make a sound, open a hatch, or light up, inducing a child’s curiosity in the object.
How have your volunteer experiences enriched your time as a student?
I’m a volunteer with two Bay Area organizations. Kids in Nutrition (KIN) brings teams of college students to local schools to teach second graders lessons focused on building healthy food habits. KIN was founded at UC Santa Barbara four years ago. I’ve been involved with KIN since the Berkeley chapter was founded two years ago, and I serve as the outreach director. I’m responsible for recruiting new schools to join the program and for maintaining correspondence with the participating elementary school teachers. In addition to my role as outreach director, I’m also head instructor for three classrooms.
The work of KIN is incredibly important. As someone who spent most of my childhood overweight, I wish that I had had someone to look up to who modeled healthy living for me. My time working with KIN has been one of the most memorable times for me during my years at Cal. Over the last two years, I have received dozens of letters and drawings from my students, which I’ll continue to hold on to long after I graduate.
I also volunteer at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, which gives students opportunities to serve patients and doctors and to gain exposure to the inner workings of a hospital. After I logged 100 hours working in the hospital gift shop—a prerequisite before working directly with patients and doctors—I was able to begin volunteering in a clinical setting. I’m now a volunteer in the Surgery Day Care Center, which gives me the opportunity to have direct interactions with patients, surgical techs, nurses, and doctors. Volunteer duties include checking in patients, showing them to their assigned room, and helping to ensure their comfort before surgery. We’re also responsible for moving and preparing gurneys, cleaning and sanitizing stations, interacting with patient families, and delivering samples to the lab. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work closely with the surgical techs, who have been patient and love the help that they receive from volunteers. Being able to directly help and connect with patients has been a very rewarding and memorable experience and has contributed to my excitement to continue studying to become a doctor.