OCTOBER 2, 2020 — Being a member of the Honors College comes with many benefits. One of these benefits is access to special development funding to work on projects and pursue academic interests outside of school.
Honors College senior and Top Scholar Natalie Malluru took advantage of this funding and used it to create a new app for smart devices that will allow patients to track their own immunization records as well as the immunization records of their family members. The app, Pocket Vax, is available on both the Google Play and Apple App stores.
Pocket Vax utilizes information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website to advise users when to renew immunizations. It gives users trustworthy sources of information combined with the convenience to host medical records on their phone. Malluru initially thought that Pocket Vax would be limited to use in the U.S., but only one month after its launch she was contacted by a nonprofit in Nigeria that wanted to utilize it for their vaccination campaigns. The two parties are currently in talks to take the app’s source code and adapt the information for local conditions.
Malluru received funding from the Carlos and Malú Alvarez Special Opportunities Fund. The fund was established by a generous donor grant, and each year funds $10,000 for students to engage in special educational experiences to which they would not normally have access. Examples of past experiences include traveling to a professional conference to present a paper, attending a workshop for specialized training, or participating in an unpaid internship experience.
According to Drew Chapman, director of competitive awards and fellowships for the UTSA Honors College, Malluru’s app is a testament to what is possible when you provide a talented student with the funding to support them in their pursuits.
“When we read Natalie’s application for funding,” he said, “we knew that this was a perfect project for the Alvarez award. We know that the Alvarez family will be proud of Natalie’s achievement and creative approach to address pressing world problems.”
As a public health major with a minor in computer science, Malluru effort with designing Pocket Vax is just one of many ventures that has her bringing together her two areas of study.
As an Archer Fellow she interned in the Office of the National Coordinator, a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Although Malluru’s time in Washington, D.C., was cut short by the pandemic, she collaborated with employees in the CDC to help create a standardized procedure that orchestrates health information exchange during public health crises.
She also helped design decision tables and translated extant guidance on COVID-19, electronic health record risk assessment, and public health management decision making.
Back at UTSA, Malluru is taking this experience and pursuing an undergraduate honors thesis under the guidance of Eddie Hernandez, an assistant professor in practice in the Department of Biology. Her thesis is titled “Opportunities and Challenges in utilizing electronic health records to provide public health situational awareness to clinicians.”
When asked how her internship with the Department of Health and Human Services helped to foster the creation of this app, Malluru said, “One of the first tasks I was given as an intern was editing a draft of the 21st Century Cures Act. Through this experience, I learned how this policy fosters medical innovation by allowing patients to have complete autonomy of their health records through modern software apps. Inspired by the policy work I was conducting in this internship, I decided to create an app that was based on health record-keeping. Pocket Vax helps communities strengthen their health record-keeping and promotes health literacy by providing comprehensive and easily digestible information about vaccines.”
As she enters her senior year at UTSA, Malluru has applied to top medical schools across the United States. On her applications, she is likely to stand out among other applicants, since she has developed an area of expertise in understanding health administration in addition to also engaging in traditional pre-med experiences, such as research and shadowing
“My experiences have cemented my desire to become a physician who values holistic care and enables patients to take charge of their long-term health. I believe my experience in clinical care will also allow me to contribute to health information technology policy,” said Malluru.
Outside of her work in Pocket Vax, Malluru’s accomplishments also include starting the UTSA chapter of the Thirst Project, an organization whose mission is to spread awareness about global water issues, conducting research in Edward Golob’s neuropsychology lab, and interning with an audiologist in Scotland while on a study abroad program.
Malluru is a high achieving and exceptional student, according to Kristi Meyer, director of the Top Scholars program: “Natalie is a constant achiever with an exceptional aptitude, budding leadership skills, a healthy curiosity, and a commitment to making the world a better place. She has carefully crafted her time at UTSA to grow and optimize her experiences in ways that help her make a marked impact on the world around her.”
Malluru will continue work toward her computer science minor by working with UTSA seniors in their software design team, who will collaborate to provide a product for the Defense Health Agency. This opportunity was organized through a budding relationship between the Honors College, the Department of Computer Science, and the School of Data Science.
By providing students with great learning and funding opportunities, the Honors College hopes to fast-track student success, encourage students to take risks and step outside the confines of their academic major through experiential opportunities, and make the most of their very high levels of potential.