Student Spotlight with Robert Hsu

Robert Hsu

Mark Stehle

FROM THE HEART: Rising junior Robert Hsu, 19, was an eighth grader when his grandmother was diagnosed with diabetes. “She grew up really poor, so she wasn’t properly educated,” he says. “She didn’t have access to the proper medical services. By the time she was diagnosed, her diabetes was already really bad. I wondered as a kid at the time, if she had been more aware of diabetes could she have avoided all these problems? I had a really strong interest in the cardiovascular system of the body, and that’s what got me interested in public health and disease prevention.”

MAJOR PLAYER: Hsu is a double major, studying biology and business. “I really wanted to explore my interest in both,” he says, “because in high school I realized no one just designs [effective public health programs]—you have to know how to implement it, too.” As a 10th grader, he started the Northville Health Awareness Society, which promoted health education to children in his hometown. “I like the whole idea of using business to achieve a health goal,” he says.

PASSION FOR RESEARCH: The Summer Undergraduate Minority Research Program was Hsu’s first foray into the world of research. “I worked with [Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor] Karen Glanz. Her research is focused around obesity control and cancer prevention. We were trying to see if changing the location and promotion of various products could change people’s purchasing habits for things like cereal, milk, pop. The initial results were it actually did work.”

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In a survey he conducted last summer, Hsu found that people who did not eat at food trucks generally said they didn’t because they perceived them to be unhealthy. “I thought that was quite interesting because there actually are quite a lot of food trucks that do offer healthy food,” he says. “My influence from my business classes [made me think] what if we could promote these healthy trucks in a different way and make them more sensible to consumers. What if we worked with food trucks to post nutritional labels? What if we work with them to create new banners and posters and signs to communicate with customers that they do offer healthy food?” The Healthy Food Truck Initiative was born.

HEALTHY CHOICES: Working in partnership with the Campus Health Initiative, Hsu hopes the project provides nutritional information and promotes healthy meals to customers.

WHAT’S NEXT: Hsu’s passion for public health and business provide him with numerous possibilities, but he seems set on moving into academia. “I’d love to get a Ph.D. and that’s what I’m [striving] toward right now,” he says. “I’d love to be a professor at a university and teach but also do research and be involved in some sort of community initiative at the same time.”

Originally published on June 6, 2013