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Living Her Dream: Andrea Duran wants to help Latina/os live healthier lives. She’s doing it at TC

Andrea Duran
Andrea Duran
Six years ago, Andrea Duran’s grandfather suffered a stroke. He survived but was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Duran knew that the factors contributing to her grandfather’s poor health – a lack of physical activity coupled with a poor diet – were common among Latina/os in his home town of Santa Ana, California, where even many young children are obese. Indeed, Duran herself had been overweight as a child. She vowed then and there to help her family and community live healthier lives.

“I faced adversity as a child, but struggle builds character,” says Duran. “I am thankful for the hardships I’ve encountered because they fueled my drive, focus and appreciation for all the blessings in my life.”

Flash forward six years: Duran, now a doctoral student in the Kinesiology program of Teachers College’s Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, is doing all the things she loves: taking classes in kinesiology, her field of study, teaching courses to master’s degree students and doing research that will help children and adults become healthier and ward off cardiovascular illness.

As if that weren’t enough, in September Duran was named a Health Policy Research Scholar, joining a prestigious new program run by the National Leadership Program Center at Johns Hopkins University. She was one of 40 graduate students in the nation selected for the program, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. All of the Health Policy Research Scholars are from underrepresented populations and disadvantaged backgrounds. Duran will receive a stipend that will enable her to spend four summers studying and doing research at Hopkins, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and the University of California-Los Angeles. She will also take online classes, attend conferences, and learn from the nation’s leading public health researchers and policy makers.

“I’m excited to be a part of the scholars program,” says Duran. “I’m motivated to learn how to become a dynamic leader and effectively translate my kinesiology research into equitable health policies.”

Carol Garber, Duran’s dissertation adviser, described her as an “exceptional student” who will benefit enormously from the scholars program.

“I faced adversity as a child, but struggle builds character,” says Duran. “I am thankful for the hardships I’ve encountered because they fueled my drive, focus and appreciation for all the blessings in my life.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity for her,” says Garber, Professor of Movement Sciences and Biobehavioral Sciences department chair. “We recruited Andrea to TC and supported her with a fellowship because she is a great student who can become a leader in the field of kinesiology. 

Teachers College itself has been a longtime leader in the field of kinesiology. Garber, for instance, is President of the American College of Sports Medicine and an authority on the role of physical activity in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. She is an Active Fellow in the National Academy of Kinesiology and a top researcher whose studies on exercise are cited internationally. The late professor Antoinette Gentile, who was the focus of a recent memorial and conference at TC, was a pioneer in applying theories of brain function to the treatment of patients with movement disorders. Her work ushered in a new era in the rehabilitation of patients who had strokes; she also established the world’s first program of study in motor learning. Current Professor of Movement Sciences Andrew Gordon has developed groundbreaking treatments for cerebral palsy that have enabled many children to lead more active lives.  

 

A New Generation of Diverse Leaders

Duran was drawn to TC precisely because of that legacy. She is Mexican-American and comes from a working class, rural section of Northern California. Growing up, she saw her parents struggle with their health and their jobs. She wanted to do something to help them – to save enough money to buy her father his own truck or help them buy a house. Yet she realized the best way to help her family was to excel academically. In high school, she loved science, dance and movement and was a top-ranked student. But by the end of her junior year, she hadn’t considered college. Luckily, a guidance counselor met with her and said that with her grades, she had to apply to college.

“I’d visit a family and a child would greet me at the door and say, ‘Oh Miss Duran, I played in the park today – I didn’t watch TV.’”

Duran attended California State University, Fullerton, where she found a major – kinesiology – that combined her interests in physical movement and science. And she continued to excel academically. In 2009, she became the first female in her family to graduate from college. Outside of school, she volunteered to serve as a Health Promoter for Latino Health Access, a nonprofit group in Santa Ana. She visited many Hispanic families in the area and even taught herself basic-level Spanish to communicate with the children. In apartment buildings, community centers and schools, she taught them about healthy food and the value of physical activity and movement. No one before her had taught them these things. No one before her had cared. And after a while, she decided that helping children isn’t a job, but instead an altruistic calling to which she would dedicate her life. 

“I’d visit a family and a child would greet me at the door and say, ‘Oh Miss Duran, I played in the park today – I didn’t watch TV,’” she recalls. “The excitement I saw in the children’s faces and the hope I saw in the parent’s eyes lit a torch inside of me to channel my passion for human movement and physiology into a career path that fulfills me and helps people who really need and appreciate the help.”

 

Hearing the Call to Serve 

In her current research, Duran works with obese children who are candidates for bariatric surgery, procedures performed on the stomach or intestines to induce weight loss. She also does research with an interdisciplinary team at Columbia University’s Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health to understand how certain behaviors, such as physical activity, psychological factors and societal forces affect cardiovascular disease in adults. 

These days, Duran is juggling a demanding schedule that includes taking classes, doing research, teaching classes while training to become a Health Policy Research Scholar. But she’s grateful to the Teachers College for giving her so many golden opportunities.

“If five years ago you had told me I’d be living in Manhattan and studying at Teachers College, I’d have said ‘no way,’” says Duran, her smile broadening. “I got into the health field because I want to make a difference – I want to make an impact on society. And I’m thankful to Teachers College for supporting my journey towards creating a culture of health. I couldn’t be happier.”– Robert Florida

Published Monday, Nov 14, 2016

Andrea Duran
Andrea Duran
Six years ago, Andrea Duran’s grandfather suffered a stroke. He survived but was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. Duran knew that the factors contributing to her grandfather’s poor health – a lack of physical activity coupled with a poor diet – were common among Latina/os in his home town of Santa Ana, California, where even many young children are obese. Indeed, Duran herself had been overweight as a child. She vowed then and there to help her family and community live healthier lives.

“I faced adversity as a child, but struggle builds character,” says Duran. “I am thankful for the hardships I’ve encountered because they fueled my drive, focus and appreciation for all the blessings in my life.”

Flash forward six years: Duran, now a doctoral student in the Kinesiology program of Teachers College’s Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, is doing all the things she loves: taking classes in kinesiology, her field of study, teaching courses to master’s degree students and doing research that will help children and adults become healthier and ward off cardiovascular illness.

As if that weren’t enough, in September Duran was named a Health Policy Research Scholar, joining a prestigious new program run by the National Leadership Program Center at Johns Hopkins University. She was one of 40 graduate students in the nation selected for the program, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. All of the Health Policy Research Scholars are from underrepresented populations and disadvantaged backgrounds. Duran will receive a stipend that will enable her to spend four summers studying and doing research at Hopkins, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and the University of California-Los Angeles. She will also take online classes, attend conferences, and learn from the nation’s leading public health researchers and policy makers.

“I’m excited to be a part of the scholars program,” says Duran. “I’m motivated to learn how to become a dynamic leader and effectively translate my kinesiology research into equitable health policies.”

Carol Garber, Duran’s dissertation adviser, described her as an “exceptional student” who will benefit enormously from the scholars program.

“I faced adversity as a child, but struggle builds character,” says Duran. “I am thankful for the hardships I’ve encountered because they fueled my drive, focus and appreciation for all the blessings in my life.”

“It’s an amazing opportunity for her,” says Garber, Professor of Movement Sciences and Biobehavioral Sciences department chair. “We recruited Andrea to TC and supported her with a fellowship because she is a great student who can become a leader in the field of kinesiology. 

Teachers College itself has been a longtime leader in the field of kinesiology. Garber, for instance, is President of the American College of Sports Medicine and an authority on the role of physical activity in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. She is an Active Fellow in the National Academy of Kinesiology and a top researcher whose studies on exercise are cited internationally. The late professor Antoinette Gentile, who was the focus of a recent memorial and conference at TC, was a pioneer in applying theories of brain function to the treatment of patients with movement disorders. Her work ushered in a new era in the rehabilitation of patients who had strokes; she also established the world’s first program of study in motor learning. Current Professor of Movement Sciences Andrew Gordon has developed groundbreaking treatments for cerebral palsy that have enabled many children to lead more active lives.  

 

A New Generation of Diverse Leaders

Duran was drawn to TC precisely because of that legacy. She is Mexican-American and comes from a working class, rural section of Northern California. Growing up, she saw her parents struggle with their health and their jobs. She wanted to do something to help them – to save enough money to buy her father his own truck or help them buy a house. Yet she realized the best way to help her family was to excel academically. In high school, she loved science, dance and movement and was a top-ranked student. But by the end of her junior year, she hadn’t considered college. Luckily, a guidance counselor met with her and said that with her grades, she had to apply to college.

“I’d visit a family and a child would greet me at the door and say, ‘Oh Miss Duran, I played in the park today – I didn’t watch TV.’”

Duran attended California State University, Fullerton, where she found a major – kinesiology – that combined her interests in physical movement and science. And she continued to excel academically. In 2009, she became the first female in her family to graduate from college. Outside of school, she volunteered to serve as a Health Promoter for Latino Health Access, a nonprofit group in Santa Ana. She visited many Hispanic families in the area and even taught herself basic-level Spanish to communicate with the children. In apartment buildings, community centers and schools, she taught them about healthy food and the value of physical activity and movement. No one before her had taught them these things. No one before her had cared. And after a while, she decided that helping children isn’t a job, but instead an altruistic calling to which she would dedicate her life. 

“I’d visit a family and a child would greet me at the door and say, ‘Oh Miss Duran, I played in the park today – I didn’t watch TV,’” she recalls. “The excitement I saw in the children’s faces and the hope I saw in the parent’s eyes lit a torch inside of me to channel my passion for human movement and physiology into a career path that fulfills me and helps people who really need and appreciate the help.”

 

Hearing the Call to Serve 

In her current research, Duran works with obese children who are candidates for bariatric surgery, procedures performed on the stomach or intestines to induce weight loss. She also does research with an interdisciplinary team at Columbia University’s Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health to understand how certain behaviors, such as physical activity, psychological factors and societal forces affect cardiovascular disease in adults. 

These days, Duran is juggling a demanding schedule that includes taking classes, doing research, teaching classes while training to become a Health Policy Research Scholar. But she’s grateful to the Teachers College for giving her so many golden opportunities.

“If five years ago you had told me I’d be living in Manhattan and studying at Teachers College, I’d have said ‘no way,’” says Duran, her smile broadening. “I got into the health field because I want to make a difference – I want to make an impact on society. And I’m thankful to Teachers College for supporting my journey towards creating a culture of health. I couldn’t be happier.”– Robert Florida

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