UCI Student Wins $10,000 Scholarship

The Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation recently awarded third-year UC Irvine student Christine Pham a $10,000 scholarship to help her carry out a public service project to combat childhood obesity.

Courtesy of Christine Pham

Courtesy of Christine Pham

Pham is one of 15 college juniors in California to receive this prestigious award. The scholarship was created in honor of the late Donald Strauss, who dedicated his life to education and public service through his many years working on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board and Newport Beach City Council. After Strauss’ passing in ’95 , his widow, Dorothy M.R. Strauss, established the foundation to preserve the vision and ideas of Donald. Since the foundation’s start in 1997, more than 240 students have received funds to organize various public and community service projects.

Pham will contribute to the foundation’s mission by implementing “My Healthy Start”  ̶ an after school program that will educate students and parents from 36 schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District about the importance of physical activity and proper nutrition.

“Santa Ana is a population where about 38 percent of the kids are obese or overweight, which is double the national average. Santa Ana is also a community where about 20 percent of the people live below the poverty line, so it is an area that is very under-served and where health education is very important,” Pham said.

“I decided to do my project there because I was born there — I grew up there, went to high school there. I eventually moved to Fountain Valley, but my grandparents are still there.”

Pham’s idea of spreading health education began during her freshman year at UC Irvine, when she joined the student organization, Student Health Outreach. One of the aspects of this club is to make one-time presentations about nutrition at different Santa Ana elementary schools. When Pham became the nutrition coordinator two years after joining, she felt that a one-time presentation wasn’t really effective because it didn’t allow for check-ups on the students and enough time for these practices to be engrained in their heads.

Pham decided to create a month-long program for students, where she and other helpers will visit the schools once a week to give a holistic presentation on nutrition. The students will receive age-appropriate booklets about health, complete with checklists for them and their parents to monitor their daily intake of different food groups.

“It’s going to be very interactive —  we’re going to play games and get their hearts pumping,” Pham said.

“And then after a month, we are going to check up on them, have them take surveys, and just assess how effective it was.”

Pham is currently organizing and planning the project with Student Health Outreach’s help. Once they make the booklets, order supplies and make proper arrangements, they plan to start the project in October 2014 and visit about two schools a month.

Because this project is a team effort, Pham is currently looking for students willing to organize and teach presentations at the elementary schools. Interested students can get started by attending Student Health Outreach meetings, which occur every Wednesday at 5 p.m. in PSCB 230.

This project is one step closer toward Pham’s goal of becoming a doctor in an under-served community. Pham already has experience in helping these communities, as she regularly volunteers at Share Our Selves, a clinic in Costa Mesa that focuses on both health and social services.

“I hope that the parents and also the kids will be more mindful of their health,” Pham said when talking about the goals of her project. “And hopefully —  this might take a while —  decrease the obesity epidemic that has overtaken the U.S., especially Santa Ana.”