Posted on in College & Campus

Biology Major Wins Scholarship for Organizing Blood Drive

The blood drive was part a national effort to encourage Hispanic/Latino student leaders to take an active role both in raising health awareness within their communities.

vivian-esparzaVivian EsparzaIn recognition of her work organizing a successful blood drive on campus, senior biology major Vivian Esparza has won a $1,000 scholarship from International Service Learning (ISL), an international nonprofit through which students help provide medical and educational services to under-served populations in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Esparza plans to split the prize with a fellow member of the Hispanic Health Professions Organization (HHPO), the group that sponsored and ran the blood drive. She and her fellow HHPO-er will use the money to go on one of the ISL organized trips, likely to somewhere in Latin America.

The blood drive was part of the Cesar E. Chavez Blood Drive Challenge, a national effort to encourage Hispanic/Latino student leaders to take an active role both in collecting blood and in raising health awareness within their communities.

“Encouraging blood donation is particularly important within Hispanic communities,” said Esparza, a native of Edinburg, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. “Both because as a group we donate proportionately less than many other ethnic groups, and because so many of us are Type O, which is the blood type most in demand. So we’re donating less than we should, and our blood is particularly valuable.”

Esparza said that more than 50 percent of Hispanics have Type O blood, while only six percent of donations come from Hispanic donors.

In order to address this directly, Esparza and her co-organizers were particularly focused on recruiting Hispanic donors to give blood. They did this by going directly to groups on campus that have predominantly Hispanic memberships, and also by aiming their advertising for the blood drive at potential Hispanic donors.

blood-drive-group.jpgVivian Esparza (far right) and her fellow members of the Hispanic Health Professional Organization (HHPO).

“My personal experience is that there are some cultural barriers to donating within my community,” said Esparza. “I think there’s a fear that the needles might be dirty, for instance, and that donating blood is riskier than it actually is. So we created literature addressing those issues directly.”

Next year HHPO plans to expand the blood drive beyond campus, targeting in particular locations in heavily Hispanic parts of Austin.

For Esparza, it’s all part of a longer-term plan to raise awareness, and health, in her community. She plans to go to medical school to become a pediatrician, and wants to focus her practice on under-served Hispanic populations.

“Growing up in the Valley, where nearly everyone is Hispanic, it didn’t occur to me that there were these big disparities in the level of care that different communities were getting,” she said. “But since I’ve become aware of it, I’ve developed a real passion to serve my community, to help erase some of those differences.”

Dan was publications editor for the College of Natural Sciences from 2006-2013. He is now communications manager for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

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Guest Tuesday, August 19, 2014