About the Speakers

Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.

Professor, Health Promotion & Community Health Sciences
Director, Program for Research and Outreach-Engagement on Nutrition and Health Disparities

Joseph R. Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D. is a Professor of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences in the Texas A&M School of Public Health and Founding Director of the Program for Research and Outreach-Engagement on Nutrition and Health Disparities. He received his Master of Public Health and Doctoral degrees from the Department of Nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill School of Public Health.  Since 2007, Dr. Sharkey has been working collaboratively with promotoras de salud (community health workers) in Texas border colonias to examine complex, place-based factors that may either enable or constrain underserved Mexican-heritage families from achieving and maintaining good nutritional, physical, and mental health. His work includes several community initiatives that have received funding from CDC, AARP Foundation, USDA, and the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research: 1)  Mejorando la Salud Comunitaria en Progreso [Improving Community Health in Progreso] 2) “PROMOTORAS Program - Increasing Food Security Among Mexican-Origin Seniors in Texas Border Colonias: Promotoras as Agents of Change 3) “Understanding Very Low Food Security among Children of Mexican-origin: the Circumstances and Coping Strategies of Mexican-origin Families in Texas Border Colonias” 4) Construyendo Comunidades Fronterizas Más Sanas [Building Healthier Border Communities] and 5) Salud Para Usted Y Su Familia [Health For You And Your Family]: Childhood Obesity Prevention in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas Border Areas. Dr. Sharkey and his team conduct several yearly outreach events in border colonias. Dr. Sharkey has published more than 120 articles and book chapters and has presented his research at international and U.S. conferences. Dr. Sharkey’s main areas of interest include food access and food choice in underserved areas, food insecurity and hunger, and childhood obesity.

Melissa Gomez, M.P.H.

Melissa is originally from a small town in South Texas called Los Fresnos. She grew up in a humble home in a colonia with her parents and nine siblings. Melissa is currently completing a degree in nutritional sciences and hopes to become a Registered Dietitian.

Melissa started working with Dr. Sharkey the summer prior to starting graduate school at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. After completing her Master of Public Health, she became Program Coordinator in the Program for Research and Outreach-Engagement on Nutrition and Health Disparities. She moved back to Los Fresnos and started supervising the research projects conducted in Hidalgo County along with a team of eight promotoras. Melissa worked side-by-side with the promotoras and conducted door-to-door surveys, household food inventories, store surveys and moderated focus groups.  Melissa was able to see firsthand the conditions that people live in and strategies that they use to economize.

Currently, Melissa works for the Center for Community Health Development’s National Community Health Training Center as the Student Assistant Program Coordinator. She manages the registrations and Blackboard access for online students completing CEUs and/or certification trainings for both Community Health Workers and instructors.