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Senior’s Internship Leads to Country-wide Change in Brunei

Published: May 19, 2016
Sandy Shwe graduated in May and begins the master’s program at UT for exercise and nutrition science in the fall.
Sandy Shwe graduated in May and begins the master’s program at UT for exercise and nutrition science in the fall.

Sandy Shwe ’16 has always been active, from playing tennis to swimming, since she was a kid growing up in Brunei. When she had the opportunity to intern for the country’s Ministry of Health last year, and focus on one of its fitness outreach efforts, Shwe found herself in her happy zone.

“I had participated in some other research projects at UT, but when I did this internship I loved it,” said Shwe, a public health major with a minor in sociology. “I realized it was my passion.”

For two months, Shwe worked in a health promotion center where she researched the effectiveness of a collaboration the ministry has with a local gym, which the government felt wasn’t being utilized.

“The ministry just wanted their staff to be more active and healthy since they are meant to be the prime examples for the country,” which is located on the north coast of Borneo in Southeast Asia, Shwe said.

Through focus groups, surveys and interviews, Shwe helped identify a better way to encourage fitness within the ministry by offering group classes on site. She presented her findings to the Minister of Health, which he approved and implemented in January.

“Since this was working under a government, I knew this was going to be big and I had to be serious. Being able to present my research in front of the staff of the Ministry of Health and getting accepted by the minister is a huge accomplishment in my opinion,” Shwe said. “Personally, I have become more confident in the things I do and decisions that I make. The work that I put so much effort into is now being implemented across the country, which is a crazy thing to feel. I took what I learned from the classroom and applied it within my job.”

Shwe also completed an internship in Burma working in the corporate social responsibility department of an oil company, focusing on public health education for the employees. She also worked on several other research projects with Mary Martinasek, assistant professor in public health. One as part of an American Lung Association grant conducting interviews with community members at local hookah bars/cafes about their hookah use, perceptions, attitude and behavior. Martinasek said she hopes to use the research to develop a community-based social marketing campaign to deter hookah smoking on a larger scale.

On another project Shwe assisted Martinasek and Ronda Sturgill, associate professor in health sciences and human performance, in conducting an external evaluation of a teen outreach pregnancy prevention program developed and conducted by Planned Parenthood trained staff. Martinasek said their responsibility was to assess whether or not the program made a difference in skills, decision making and behaviors in high-risk youth in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas County.

“Our students provide the bulk of the program planning leadership for our UT Wellness initiatives ranging from mental health, prescription drug abuse to physical activity and nutrition,” Martinasek said. “The skills our students learn in the classroom propel them in the real world to combat the growing number of negative health behaviors, and their skills and knowledge help them to formulate strategies to empower individuals and communities to increase their resilience.”

Shwe graduated in May and begins the master’s program at UT for exercise and nutrition science in the fall.

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