Learning To Lead

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The word “leadership” is most often associated with heads of companies and organizations, but you don’t have to be a private sector CEO to be a leader. Leadership happens in different environments and takes many forms. People can lead by inspiring others, by creating mutually beneficial partnerships to effect positive change, and by helping people empower themselves.

Spring 2010 Feature

At the Center for Health Leadership (CHL) at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, students learn leadership skills they can put to use wherever their paths might ultimately take them, in public health or another field, in community or government organizations or the private sector. The center, founded in 2008 with support from the Eustace-Kwan Family Foundation, expands upon the School’s offerings to develop and produce transformational leaders in public health.

Developing leaders is more than an academic exercise; students hone their leadership skills through active involvement with communities and organizations. Turn the page for a few examples of current and future leaders who are making a difference in the lives of others.

What if there were an activity that was not only fun, but also brought families and communities together, got kids to be physically active, guided them into positive lifestyles, reduced violence, and educated people about health? It sounds too good to be true. But Comité de Refugiados Centroamericanos (Central American Refugee Committee), better known as CRECE, has discovered just the thing: soccer.

Building on a model used in Cuba, CRECE has organized teams in East Oakland to compete in soccer, which is very popular in Latin America and resonates with Oakland’s Latino population. More than 200 children are participating in the 16 soccer teams. And it’s not only for the kids; parents are involved as coaches, and entire families come to support the youths and the community.

“It’s exciting because traditionally when sporting teams are created for youth, it’s very much based on tryouts and your abilities, and whether you have the funds to pay for your uniform,” comments Abby Rincón, MPH ’86, director of diversity at the School of Public Health. “This doesn’t have any barriers like that. Everybody’s welcome.”

Tanya Olmos, a master’s student in health and social behavior, has been collaborating with CRECE through Multicultural Health in Action (MHIA), a program of the Center for Health Leadership. Olmos and other students have been developing a health education component to enhance CRECE’s soccer program, working with community partners such as La Clínica de La Raza, a multicultural health care provider in Oakland. “We’ll be giving health education workshops around asthma, diabetes, and nutrition, at the parks where they have their practices,” Olmos explains.

The MHIA students recognize the limits of what they can do while pursuing their degrees and ultimately graduating. “When you’re sitting across the table from someone and they’re asking for your help, it’s a huge responsibility. We don’t want to promise all these things, and then when the end of the semester comes, our internships start and we have no time,” says Olmos.

For that reason, they are focusing on efforts that are sustainable, such as creating links between CRECE and other organizations and services that will remain after the students are no longer involved. Another idea they are developing with sustainability in mind is training the parents to be promotoras (health educators) within the community—a different kind of “soccer mom.”

Olmos and others are also working on arranging asthma training for the coaches. “A lot of the children have asthma. This is a huge concern, because the coaches aren’t really trained if someone has an asthma attack,” she says. The students are developing an asthma action plan, which includes recommendations such as having the coaches document the children’s medications so they can tell paramedics if necessary.

Undergraduates have gotten in on the act too. In order to encourage the kids in the soccer program to believe in college as an attainable goal, Berkeley undergrads are leading them on tours of the campus and providing academic tutoring.


Olmos’s ideas about service and about leadership have evolved as a result of this experience so far. “When you think of leadership, a lot of time the thought comes up of one single person doing something, and they’re the leader,” she says. “We’re going in as a group. I think we’re leaders in our own right, but the fact that it’s a group brings about very many more ideas than you could bring about on your own.”

After Lauren Lessard completed her bachelor’s degree in political science at UC Santa Cruz, she expected that her next degree would be a master’s in public policy. But working in the office of Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel), she discovered that her policy interests really centered on reproductive health. She recalls, “It was a volatile time in D.C. when I was there. They were passing a partial birth abortion ban, and I started to realize where I needed to be—not among the black suits in D.C., but on the ground, advocating for women and activating people my age.”

From the congressman’s office, she went to work at Planned Parenthood, and following that, a Peace Corps assignment in Suriname. “I thought, my gosh, if women in the United States are having this much trouble accessing reproductive health services, I can’t imagine what it would be like for women abroad.” The Peace Corps experience, she says, was eye-opening. “I realized I’d now uncovered all these issues that I’m active and frustrated and excited about, and that I didn’t have the tools to address any of them.”

To equip herself with the skills and knowledge she needed, Lessard applied to the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and was admitted into the MPH program in maternal and child health. She was selected to be one of 12 inaugural members of the Center for Health Leadership’s Fellows Program, a new 18-month leadership development program coordinated by Ellie Schindelman, MPH ’80. The program aims to develop leaders “from the inside out” and strengthen their abilities to make a positive difference in the world. The fellows engage in activities including training workshops, mentoring, assessments, experiential exercises, peer coaching, conversations with health leaders, and action learning projects within the School and in the community. Many of the activities are carried out in teams. Lessard is a member of a project group working on a needs assessment for the Center for Public Health Practice’s internship program—working with students, advisers, and preceptors to see how students can be better supported as they enter and return from their internships.

Her group is also undertaking a case study with the Alameda County Public Health Department. “We’re working on the Life Course Initiative—a new philosophy in public health that’s being implemented throughout the country,” she explains. “We’re seeing how the county health department is exploring this new philosophy for all their programs.” What she learns from the case study will serve her in good stead this summer: She’ll be interning with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which is also introducing the life course model. “The concept is preconception health care. So it’s really broadening women’s health—not only is it good for women today, but it’s essential for the health of all future generations,” she says.

Lessard is enthusiastic about applying what she’s learned to the field of reproductive health. “I think the Fellows Program is great for those who are specifically interested in their MPH as a professional degree as opposed to an academic one,” she says. “We can then take the
MPH and go out with needs assessment tools, program tools, leadership skills, and actually work to improve the health of populations.”

YouTube. Facebook. Twitter. Social media are changing the way we communicate with one another, and are making it easier for people to have their voices heard. Just ask Caricia Catalani, DrPH ’09, cofounder of VideoVoice Collective.

“Traditionally speaking, if you wanted to, say, have a story covered about your neighborhood or contribute to the knowledge about the place where you live, you’d have to be able to access people who have their finger on the button, whether it’s the CNNs of the world, or the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s of the world, or the Fox News,” says Catalani. “What new media tools allow people to do, for a lower cost than ever before, is to be their own broadcasting station, their own newspaper. And it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity.”

Catalani came to the School of Public Health as a doctoral student to study community-based participatory research (CBPR), an approach that equitably involves communities in the research process. She had always been a “techie,” she says, and she loved the photovoice methodology, in which inexpensive photo cameras are put into the hands of community members as a way to bring their perspectives into the dialog. She decided to apply the same concept to video. In her dissertation, she evaluated the use of photovoice and videovoice in community-based participatory research, with professor and CBPR expert Meredith Minkler, DrPH ’75, as her adviser.

Now she is back at the School of Public Health as a lecturer with the Center for Health Leadership, training others to use the same tools to advance public health. Her class, “Video and Public Health Leadership,” which she teaches with Ellie Schindelman, gives students hands-on experience shooting and editing videos, uploading them to YouTube, and using them to engage community members in advocacy and organizing for public health.Her dissertation inspired her to found VideoVoice Collective with her partner (now husband) Anthony Veneziale, a filmmaker. VideoVoice’s health advocacy, research, and evaluation team works to “turn documentary film on its head” through film partnerships with marginalized communities. In one such partnership, residents of post-Katrina New Orleans were trained to produce their own media. “We put cameras in the hands of the low-income community members there so that they could use them to tell their own stories, to talk about how they’d like to see their communities rebuilt, and what sorts of long-term solutions they saw for building an even more resilient New Orleans,” Catalani explains.


“One of the things we’re finding in our class is that, as we teach people those skills, they end up using them almost immediately in their ongoing work,” says Catalani. “We’re not even done with the class yet, and many of our students have already started using the tools.” One student, Maria Hernández, interviewed students of color, asking them what they wish they had known about college when they were in high school. She turned the interviews into a five-minute film, which she then shared with high school students in underserved communities who are considering college. Another student, Heidi Tuason, had taken footage during her summer internship in the Philippines, where she worked with low-income women around reproductive rights issues. Using what she learned, she is crafting the footage into a video to use in advocacy for women’s reproductive health.

The popularity and success of the class encouraged CHL to explore similar themes in its annual leadership conference, held April 15–16 in Berkeley. Titled “21st Century Tools for Health Leadership: Using New Media and Health Communication Technologies,” the conference looked at the ways in which new media are being used by health organizations, and the opportunities and threats the tools pose for health leaders.

At this stage in their development, new media could still take off in any number of directions. “It’s critical that these tools don’t become like the mass media, owned and controlled by a few conglomerates,” says Catalani. Through partnerships and training, she, her team, and her students are doing their best to keep the ownership of new media tools where it can do the most good—in the hands of those who know their communities best.

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