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Student Highlights: Janessa Mendoza (NHS ‘22)

Janessa Mendoza is a senior in the NHS majoring in Human Science, minoring in Psychology, and on the Pre-Med track. 

Involvement in Research:

In high school, Janessa went on medical missions to the Philippines for 3 summers. She helped patients fill out forms, gave them reading glasses, took their blood pressures, and even led an anti-tobacco campaign to spread awareness about the harms of smoking. In college, during her Health Promotion & Disease Prevention (HPDP) class, she learned about the concept of health literacy and how most adults in the US have low health literacy, which negatively impacts their health-related decisions. It is a significant issue that is becoming more prevalent in the United States, as well as around the world. Through her previous work in the Philippines and the knowledge she learned in HPDP, she realized how crucial her medical missions to the Philippines was to improving health literacy of Philippine residents. In HPDP, she learned about a partnership with the Alaska Literacy Program (ALP) in which NHS students have the opportunity to go to Anchorage, AK to teach health literacy to English language learners. Alongside her friend Sannidhi Shashikiran, another junior in the NHS, Janessa was able to participate in the program Before teaching the health literacy course, they looked up previous literature on best practices for teaching health literacy and how low health literacy affects vulnerable populations in the US. Unfortunately, due to COVID, they had to teach students virtually through Zoom, but they still had a fulfilling and humbling experience. This experience propelled Sannidhi and Janessa to further their research on health literacy under the direction of Professor Joan Riley.

In her research, Janessa focuses on the impacts and implications of low health literacy among populations in the US. She believes this is important in order to shed light on the social view of health literacy, which emphasizes that health literacy is not just reading and writing words and numbers, but it is also action-oriented and involves a personalized/individualized aspect so that people can efficiently make the right healthcare decisions for themselves. They look at existing ways of how health literacy is improved and try to propose more effective strategies on how to tackle the low health literacy issue throughout the world (suggesting that there be a shared responsibility between patients and physicians to improve health literacy, organizations/professionals create clearer public messages, engaging social support networks between community members and healthcare professionals, and a synergistic community committed to maintaining overall well-being). They also look at how low health literacy affects individuals globally during the COVID-19 pandemics, using their previous research and knowledge.


Through her experience, Janessa learned better communication skills and how to build a virtual community that still positively impacts people, which is important especially during this pandemic. She built poise and confidence through this research process and ALP teaching experience. She feels fulfilled by empowering others through rewarding teaching experience and connections made to students & other teachers. She was able to apply her academic knowledge to the real world and gained motivation to learn more about health literacy. Janessa recognizes that Sannidhi and her just took one small step to decrease the health literacy disparity, but hopefully, other organizations/universities can follow in their footsteps

Written by Danya Adams, Orion Gangopadhyay, and Nesreen Shahrour