Summer Scholars in Pediatric Clinical Research

Training the next-generation of researchers and public health leaders

Applications Closed for Summer 2024


No longer accepting applications

Applications for Summer 2024 are now closed. Decisions will be announced soon. Thank you for your interest in this year's program.

SSPCR Applicant Infographic 2024



Summer Scholars in Pediatric Clinical Research

The Center for Pediatric Population Health is focused on training the next-generation of researchers and public health leaders. The Summer Scholars in Pediatric Clinical Research (SSPCR) provides undergraduate students an opportunity to work with leading researchers focused on pediatric and adolescent research. This program is designed to provide stage-specific competencies for undergraduates in science knowledge, research skill development, professionalism, and communication.

Summer Scholars will have a 10-week faculty mentor-guided research training experience with enrichment activities (e.g. didactic workshops, scientific seminar, role model seminar, mentoring workshops and ethics training) expected to provide a comprehensive introductory exposure to epidemiological and public health research. The program will take place from June 3-August 9, 2024 (tentative).


Seminar Topics

  • Developing a Research Center Infrastructure
  • The Role of the Family Environment on Adolescent Health Outcomes
  • Finding for an Audience
  • Twitter is Your Friend: Building a Network and Professional Identify Online
  • Conducting Literature Reviews
  • Overview of Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap)
  • Research Data Management
  • Additional seminar topics planned



  1. Currently enrolled undergraduate student at a US college or university.
  2. In good academic standing.
  3. Must be at least 18 years old as of June 3, 2024.
  4. Must have proof of current health insurance.
  5. Cannot be an employee of UTHealth Houston.
  6. Can participate remotely, hybrid, or in-person at our Dallas location.



Applications for Summer 2024 were due by Monday, March 25, 2024.


Media Release

If you authorize UTHealth to use your name and photos in publications or promotional material, complete the media release form.



Sarah Messiah
Sarah E. Messiah, PhD, MPH, FTOS
Professor and Director
Publications    Researchgate    LinkedIn

Dr. Messiah is the inaugural director of the Center for Pediatric Population Health and a tenured Professor of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health. She is a perinatal/pediatric and life course epidemiologist whose research focuses on childhood obesity and cardiometabolic disease risk factors and the implementation of evidence-based practices into clinical and community-based settings to improve health outcomes.
Andrea Betts
Andrea C. Betts, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Publications    Researchgate    LinkedIn

Dr. Betts' cancer control research endeavors to enhance healthcare accessibility and the overall well-being of marginalized communities, with a special focus on individuals who have survived cancer during their adolescent and young adult years (AYAs). Her primary interest lies in the creation and execution of interventions grounded in empirical evidence, with the goal of enhancing the healthcare experiences and results for AYAs.
Alejandra Fernandez
Alejandra Fernandez, PhD
Assistant Professor
Publications    Researchgate    LinkedIn

Dr. Fernandez’s research generally focuses on the health of Hispanic adolescents and their families. Her research is centered around improving family functioning between Hispanic adolescents and their family members in order to prevent and reduce adverse health outcomes, including substance use behaviors, sexual risk behaviors, adverse mental health outcomes, and obesity related outcomes. The mechanism primarily used in Dr. Fernandez’s research to improve health outcomes is the development and testing of family-based interventions.
Serwaa Omowale
Serwaa S. Omowale, PhD, LMSW, MPH
Assistant Professor
Publications    Researchgate    LinkedIn

Dr. Omowale's research is centered on examining how employment functions as a social determinant of health and its influence on racial disparities observed in maternal health and birth outcomes. Additionally, she is dedicated to the creation of interventions that are culturally sensitive, aiming to mitigate negative pregnancy outcomes among Black women. Dr. Omowale employs a range of research approaches to craft interventions tailored to specific populations, ensuring cultural appropriateness. Her ultimate goal is to address and eliminate health disparities in areas such as maternal mortality, infant mortality, and preterm birth outcomes, ultimately striving for health equity.
Jenil Patel
Jenil Patel, MBBS, MPH, PhD
Assistant Professor
Publications    Researchgate    LinkedIn

Dr. Patel conduct research on congenital heart defects, along with designing new studies to create optimal occupational exposure assessment techniques in order to draw implications to reduce overall burden of birth defects. Additionally, he also works on conducting new epidemiological studies to identify environmental and occupational risk factors for pediatric asthma in North Texas.
Kevin Rix
Kevin C. Rix, Jr, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Publications    LinkedIn

Dr. Rix's research interests are primarily centered on injury and violence prevention, the application of implementation science principles to injury and violence prevention initiatives, and the field of injury epidemiology. Dr. Rix's research approach is strongly rooted in practical experience, as he dedicated seven years to managing an injury and violence prevention program at a level one trauma center in Austin, TX. During his tenure at the hospital, he served as a mentor for numerous UTHealth students who were completing their practicum experiences in injury prevention. His research primarily delves into the correlation between space-time factors and the risk of injury across various injury mechanisms.
Andrea Ramirez Varela
Andrea Ramirez Varela, MD, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Publications    LinkedIn

Dr. Varela is a physician-scientist who specializes in the intersection of public health, physical activity epidemiology, and health policy research. Her career focuses on three areas: conducting studies among underserved populations in low and middle-income countries, establishing global surveillance systems for physical activity and policy, and using a syndemic approach to understand the link between physical activity promotion, non-communicable disease prevention, and infectious disease crises (such as COVID19). Dr. Varela holds a joint appointment in the Department of Pediatrics at UTHealth Houston McGovern Medical School.
Luyu Xie
Luyu (Amber) Xie, PhD, PharmD
Assistant Professor
Publications    Researchgate

Dr. Xie received her PharmD in 2017 from University of Nebraska Medical Center and her PhD from UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in 2022. Her ongoing research mainly focuses on 1) population-based, pharmacoepidemiological studies in asthma; 2) epidemiological research on the health outcome and behaviors of pediatric patients diagnosed with COVID-19; and 3) genetic risk factors detection using Mendelian Randomization. Dr. Xie is also collaborating with multiple research teams from the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, Departments of Internal Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She has co-authored over 30 manuscripts in peer reviewed journals and has presented her research at various national and international meetings. Dr. Xie has received the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee Travel Award for outstanding poster presentation at UT Southwestern. She is also the recipient of the Denton A. Cooley, MD, Transformation and Hope Scholarship and the J. Fred Annegers Memorial Scholarship.


Contact Us

For more information about SSPCR contact the Center manager, Elishia Barnett. Learn more about the research conducted at the Center for Pediatric Population Health.