Grad Student Incorporates Hydration Info Into Course for Freshmen

July 28, 2017

Natasha Brand, photo by Novo Studio
Natasha Brand, photo by Novo Studio

As a graduate student at the University of Arkansas, Natasha Brand is a teaching assistant for the freshman-level college transition course called University Perspectives. So, of course, she wanted to include information on the topic she's planning to research for her thesis — hydration.

Brand, who has dual British and American citizenship, is pursuing a master's degree in kinesiology and, once she collects that degree in December, she plans to enter the exercise science doctoral program in the U of A's College of Education and Health Professions. She would like to eventually teach and conduct research on the university level.

Brand has been involved in the sport of mountain biking in several ways, serving as program representative for the South Central Region of the International Mountain Bike Association as well as the local chapter, FAST – Friends of Arkansas Single Track, and on a committee that succeeded in bringing a National Interscholastic Cycling Association league to Arkansas. She did the statistical research on the league proposal.

"My interest in hydration came about through the realization that there was a gap in the knowledge and education of youth mountain bike athletes, through my work with (the two organizations)," she said.

That interest brought her to the Hydration Science Lab created in the spring of 2016 in the College of Education and Health Professions, where she helped a doctoral student with his research.

"It led me finally to my current project as part of my University Perspectives research requirement (as a graduate assistant), where I was able to tie in the fact that hydration is also a hugely important factor in academic success," Brand said. "I'm hoping that this project will have a campus-wide impact when it is introduced into the University Perspectives curriculum this fall. I'm really excited to work in this area."

Research by scientists including Stavros Kavouras, a U of A professor of exercise science who created the Hydration Science Lab, suggests that dehydration can cause cognitive impairment as well as other health problems.

Brand wants to research hydration knowledge and behavior in populations such as youth and people with disabilities.

She decided to create an infographic about hydration and reached out to collaborate with the Kendrick Fincher Foundation for Life based in Rogers. The infographic provides statistics about the way our bodies use water and describes one way to tell if you drinking an adequate amount of fluids — by the color of urine. The darker a person's urine is, the more dehydrated that person likely is. The infographic also lists effects of mild dehydration and signs of dehydration.

"My idea was to create hydration education not just for athletes, but all students," Brand said. "Knowledge about hydration is needed for everyone."

Brand knew Rhonda Fincher and was familiar with the work done by the foundation Fincher created after the death of her 13-year-old son, Kendrick, in 1995 of heat stroke. The foundation's mission is to promote proper hydration and prevent heat illness through education and supporting activities. Fincher, executive director of the foundation, said it has printed material appropriate for athletes and for its kindergarten through 12th grade programs.

"These are more usable for college students," Fincher said of Brand's infographic. "We didn't have anything. This is good for that group of students; it is eye catching and has what they need to know when come on campus. We do a lot in the community, but in terms of having specific resources we can hand to this age we didn't have anything like this."

Awareness of the importance of proper hydration has increased over the years since the foundation was established, Fincher said, but it requires constant educational effort.

"One of the biggest changes we have noticed is that coaches are taking much more responsibility," she said. "They recognize that they play a large role in making sure students are hydrated at least at practice. With our programming, we go into elementary schools to prep children for when they get into sports."

Brand said including hydration education in the University Perspectives course helps reinforce that proper hydration is not just for athletes.

"Hydration is a key factor in student success," she said. "University Perspectives aims to assist students in all aspects of success."

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