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Marching to a Healthier Tune

UriegasNancy A. Uriegas

University of South Carolina
Graduate Program: Ph.D. Exercise Science – Rehabilitations Science
Education: B.S., Athletic Training, University of Texas at Austin; M.S., Advanced Athletic Training, University of South Carolina, Arnold School of Public Health
Mentor: Dr. Toni Torres-McGehee, University of South Carolina; LaGwyn Durden, previously University of Texas at Austin, currently NCAA

Nancy A. Uriegas loves to study marching band artists. She has seen her share as she has pursued her undergraduate and graduate degrees at institutions where marching bands are part of the culture. As an athletic trainer, she has seen issues that fuel her research interests: nutrition, eating disorders, and energy availability in athletics, performing arts, and military medicine.

“Nancy effectively translates her research into practical and meaningful service,” says Dr. Toby S. Jenkins, interim associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Graduate School at USC.

“The purpose of the research is to be clinically relevant so that it can translate to clinical practice,” says Uriegas.

As an undergraduate, Uriegas worked with track and field athletes and saw the female athlete triad, which involves the correlation between energy availability, menstrual dysfunction, and osteoporosis. Disordered eating can play a big role.

“When I transitioned from working clinically to a research side of things, my first project was assessing healthcare professionals’ knowledge of feeding and eating disorders,” says Uriegas. “I realized a lot of people don’t have the knowledge or the right understanding of disordered eating and general nutrition practices.”

As a Mexican-American woman pursuing a doctorate, Uriegas often reminds herself that she does, in fact, belong in academia. She is part of the prestigious Grace Jordan McFadden Professors Program, which prepares underrepresented ethnically diverse students for careers as professors.

“Now that I am a Ph.D. student and I have gotten a taste of what research is and how much I actually do enjoy it, that’s what I want to keep doing,” Uriegas says. “I would like to pursue a tenure-track position within an athletic training program. I want to be able to teach young individuals to become athletic trainers … and watch them grow as clinicians. Also, be able to do my research and put it out there.”

Uriegas grew up in the small border town of Brownsville, Texas, where she and her four siblings lived with their mother. Her father lived and worked in Mexico and they would travel to see him each weekend. While she is a first-generation American, as the fourth of five children, she appreciates the insights into higher ed that her older sisters and brother provided.

As a research scholar, Uriegas has already published five articles in research journals and currently has three articles under review. She has presented at nine professional conferences and is the instructor of record for several courses in USC’s exercise science program.

Additionally, she is a research mentor for undergraduate and master’s students.

“She helps demystify graduate school and the idea of conducting research,” Jenkins says. “The clinical component of her work that has her out in service as a trainer to athletic teams and military groups can serve as a form of inspiration to students who might see conducting research as being behind some door not interacting with people.”

One of her priorities is to educate athletes, artists, and military personnel about the benefits of healthy eating on performance. She wants her research to impact policies and procedures that will help the overall health and wellness of student-athletes at the collegiate level and also marching band artists, dancers, cheerleaders, and the physically active population.

"One of my papers is looking at eating disorder risk in marching band artists,” Uriegas says. “We started implementing research to be able to have a change in policy and procedure — not only from the mental health aspect, but also general physical activity guidelines for them.”

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