Weber State’s Office of Undergraduate Research recognizes students and faculty members for outstanding research and mentorship each year from nominations submitted by faculty and students engaged in undergraduate research. In April 2020, four student researchers and four faculty mentors were recognized for their contributions to undergraduate research over the past academic year.
April Callister, a sports nutrition education major, was selected as the outstanding undergraduate researcher for the Jerry & Vickie Moyes College of Education. With the guidance of her mentor, David Aguilar-Alvarez, an assistant professor of nutrition, Callister collected diet information, waist circumference measurements, blood glucose levels and other health indicators from 167 Weber State students.
There is significant evidence linking the indicators Callister measured to metabolic disease, she said, but the relationship between different indicators is not yet fully understood. Using her data, she looked for potential links between indicators, and she found that people with higher levels of fat deposits around their organs in the abdomen, called visceral fat, had higher resting blood sugar levels than those with lower levels of visceral fat. In addition, lower sugar consumption was associated with lower waist circumference and lower levels of triglycerides circulating in the blood.
Some of her other findings varied by sex, suggesting that metabolic disease may develop differently in men and women, which could lead to different interventions.
Callister presented her research at Weber State’s 16th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium, held virtually in April 2020. She was also scheduled to present at two academic conferences for professional researchers and one undergraduate research conference. While two of her conferences were unfortunately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said conducting the research was a transformative experience.
“I always felt like an equal in the project,” Callister said of Aguilar-Alvarez’s mentorship. “It gave me a ton of confidence. He’s always been really good at instilling confidence in people.”
The experience also shifted her career plans. While she is continuing with her prior plan to become a physician’s assistant, she now intends to enter academia so she can continue to engage in research.