Sharma Family Establishes Game-changing Endowment in Community Nutrition and Health


Brighter Bites is thrilled to announce that our co-founder Shreela Sharma and her husband have set up an endowment that will strengthen the link between the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living and Brighter Bites, and, most importantly, establish a pipeline of brain power that will develop the next generation of Brighter Bites scientists!

This story from the UTHealth website describes the endowment and the new Sharma Fellows who will benefit it. We have also pasted the story below:

Paying it forward is something that many people aspire to every day. Faculty member and alumna, Shreela Sharma, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., along with her husband, Vibhu Sharma, have committed $100,000 to establish the Shreela and Vibhu Sharma Endowed Fund for Excellence in Community Nutrition, Health & Wellness at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health. The donation will be matched one-to-one by the Game Changers Fund offered by UTHealth.

Shreela Sharma is an associate professor in the UTHealth School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences and works with the school’s Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living.

“We are grateful to have the support of the Sharmas through this new fellowship,” says Eric Boerwinkle, Ph.D., dean of the School of Public Health. “This support of student academics and research demonstrates the outstanding dedication our faculty members have to the school. Dr. Sharma is already a super star on our faculty, and I look forward to great things from her in the future. Shreela and Vibhu’s gift is a testament to the generosity of the people of Houston to UTHealth and the School of Public Health, in particular.”

The endowment will fund several doctoral-level student fellowships every year. The doctoral fellowships funded by the endowment will be competitive and require a research commitment of at least two semesters (200 hours per semester) from doctoral students selected to be “Sharma Fellows.”

“I went to UTHealth and I had some fantastic experiences and mentors that really made public health important and relevant for me – the whole experience,” says Shreela Sharma about her time as a student at UTHealth School of Public Health where she earned a Ph.D. in 2005. “We always knew that we wanted to give back in any small way possible.”

Sharma, who is known for her work in community nutrition and childhood obesity prevention, says she hopes the fellowship will help the school continue to attract talent at a high level. “We have some fantastic work and research that we’re doing through Brighter Bites, for example. These opportunities would really help students get that ‘public-health-in-action’ experience.”

Shreela Sharma is co-founder of Brighter Bites, alongside Lisa Helfman. This non-profit organization aims to improve eating behavior among predominantly low-income families by introducing them to a routine distribution of fresh produce, along with corresponding education in school and at home, ultimately helping to curb the childhood obesity epidemic in Houston. “Sharma Fellows will be a tremendous asset to the research questions that Brighter Bites is interested in answering” says Lisa Helfman. Sharma’s work at the School of Public Health focuses on Brighter Bites and other community-based nutrition research.

Vibhu Sharma emphasized the economic value that the endowment offers fellows in addition to the experience. Sharma Fellows would not only get compensation for being selected as a fellow, but would also get access to in-state tuition rates. He said he is also interested in the legacy it will leave for his own family. “This would be something in-perpetuity, so it would allow us to have a legacy for the Sharma name,” he says.

He is also excited about continuing to raise awareness in nutrition and public health through this Endowment. “The idea is to highlight what the endowment is going to support, which is research in nutrition and health through programs like Brighter Bites. The outreach and awareness that we would generate from this would hopefully get more people on the healthy bandwagon.” He adds in with a bit of humor, “For people like me, for whom it is easy to jump into a box of Cheetos.”

The endowed fund’s principal investigator is Deanna Hoelscher, Ph.D., R.D., director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living on the School of Public Health’s campus in Austin (one of six campuses across the State of Texas). Hoelscher’s role in the endowment will be to make sure funds are dispersed as soon as they are ready; see that student work is supervised by a faculty member; and promote the fellowship whenever possible.

Hoelscher echoes the Sharmas’ sentiments for attracting top students to the School of Public Health. “Whenever you get funding like this – especially when it’s for a student who is out of state or out of country – that in-state tuition really amplifies the amount of money you get through the fellowship itself.”

This endowment will strengthen the relationship between academia and the non-profit sector. The goal is to improve the nutrition status and health of parents, children and the greater community.