Graduating students make plans for the future, make time to give back

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For more than a decade, the graduating students at the School of Public Health have decided upon a class gift as a way to thank the School for their education and to enhance the experiences of future public health students. In response to the urgent need for student scholarships, the Class of 2016 designated their gift to provide student scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students.

This year’s class gift campaign committee consisted of five students who volunteered to encourage their classmates to give and to identify the best gift to leave behind for future students. They were all undergraduates who completed their degrees in public health. Read these Q&As to get to know more about the members of the 2016 Class Gift Campaign Committee, their plans for the future, and their reasons for making time to giving back.

Leah Cha

Leah ChaLeah Cha’s passion to help people drew her to UC Berkeley and its social justice oriented culture and history. And after watching “Half the Sky,” a documentary about the systematic abuses and poverty facing women and girls around the world, she knew that a path in public health would help her to achieve social change by addressing the injustices faced by the disadvantaged communities, including her own. Studying public health at UC Berkeley allowed her to grow personally and professionally and taught her ways in which she could help address the health and social issues affecting underserved communities.

Q. Looking back on your time as a public health student, do you have a favorite memory or story to share?

“One of the most memorable experiences I had this year was participating in UC Berkeley’s Global Health Case Competition, which was hosted by the Center for Global Health and Practice. Along with three other Berkeley students, I was given a case a week before the competition, assigned to develop tobacco-control strategies for the North Sumatra Province in Indonesia. We did not know anything about Indonesia, let alone about addressing global health issues. However, learning about and engaging in something completely new and challenging was the most thrilling part of this competition. It was also a rewarding experience to work with other students in a team, engaging in heated discussions about the what would be the best and most feasible solution to address the tobacco issue in the country. I was elated to hear that our team placed second in the competition, and was truly grateful for this amazing opportunity and experience in my final year at Cal.”

Q. What made you decide to join the 2016 class gift committee and how was your experience?

“Being a student at Cal, amidst the long hours of studying, working as a hall staff member, doing research, and engaging in other extracurricular activities, was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I had. Aside from my family, public health was the drive that helped me to persevere through the challenges I faced at Berkeley. For this reason, I felt the need to give back to the school, so I decided to join the 2016 Class Gift Committee. Joining the committee presented a great opportunity to work with other students and bring our diverse skillsets and creativity to organize and run a campaign.”

Q. What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

“In the summer, I will be taking part in a public health program in Thailand, where I will have the opportunity to engage in fieldwork and interact with migrant communities near the Thai-Myanmar border. Upon returning to the United States, I plan on working in research and studying for exams in preparation for graduate school.”

Mary Figueroa

Mary FigueroAs a first generation college student, Mary Figueroa did not know what it meant to pursue higher education and was not aware of UC Berkeley’s prestige. But once she visited the campus during her senior year through the UC Berkeley BRIDGES program that invites newly admitted students of color to visit and tour the campus, she “automatically foresaw that [she]could spend the next four years of [her]life at Cal.” As an incoming freshman, she perused the list of majors offered at UC Berkeley and stumbled upon public health, which caught her eye because it combined both her interests—social science and health. As a public health major, Figueroa had an externship at a Los-Angeles-based care health promotora, which lead educational-health-related workshops to community leaders, who were then trained to facilitate similar workshops to the greater community. Working there, she realized that “through a public health lens, disinvested communities are capable of being empowered and the status quo can be defied.”

Q. Looking back on your time as a public health student, do you have a favorite memory or story to share?

“One of my fondest memories as a public health student would have to be the time when I was first offered an internship through UC Berkeley’s Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) that was facilitated by Durrain Ansari-Yan (the School’s diversity outreach coordinator) along with two School of Public Health alumni. My time during HCOP exposed me to the research that the School has to offer and the amazing faculty and staff that truly valued me as a student and were genuinely interested in my success. I was immediately hooked on being more engaged with not only the field of public health, but specifically to UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.”

Q. What made you decide to join the 2016 class gift committee and how was your experience?

“My work-study supervisor, Eileen Pearl, first approached me to join the class gift committee. She briefly described the duties of being the co-chair of the 2016 Class Gift Committee and I was immediately on board and eager to contribute my time to the project. At first, we had a rocky start since we were launching the campaign later than usual, but after recruiting four other committed classmates, we managed to work diligently to promote the campaign to the rest of the 2016 graduates. It was truly a humbling and honoring experience to work with Eileen and the committee with the goal that we are attempting to leave a long-lasting experience for future public health students.”

Q. What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

“I will be interning for Contra Costa Regional Medical Center during the summer, where I will be working with the Quality Improvement Department. After gaining two to three years of work experience, I plan to obtain a dual master’s degree in Public Health and Business Administration, so I gain the skills required to work on health management and administration.”

Marisa Kanemitsu

Marisa KanemitsuWhen Marisa Kanemitsu first came to UC Berkeley, she did not know about the public health major. First she intended to pursue integrative biology, but after she spoke with School of Public Health alumni and current students, she soon found out that the interdisciplinary nature of public health allowed her to combine her wide-ranging interests in biology and the social science and opened her eyes to the many factors that play a role in people’s well-being. Being a pediatrician is her career goal, but after graduation, she plans on taking some time off to work in elementary school gardens and to educate children about health, nutrition, and the food they are eating by engaging them in hands-on activities.

Q. Looking back on your time as a public health student, do you have a favorite memory or story to share?

“My favorite public health memory was presenting my 150A (Epidemiology) project with my team members. The project looked at sexual activity as an exposure to HPV vaccine uptake. The project spanned the entire semester and challenged us to really think about all the concepts and information we had learned throughout the semester. It culminated with a final poster presentation, which was slightly nerve-wracking because we had to present to masters students and professors. However, it was also a really rewarding experience because we had worked effectively as a team throughout the entire semester and each team member came prepared with his or her speech. We worked really hard to put our poster and presentation together, and it was fun to show off our work.”

Q. What made you decide to join the 2016 class gift committee and how was your experience?

“The public health faculty and peers provided me with an extremely supportive and positive experience, and I wanted to give back to a program that I’m really proud of. I also thought the timing was perfect; considering the ongoing issues the School is facing, I wanted to give back in any way I could. I’m proud of what my fellow committee members and I accomplished and the support we were able to garner. I was also extremely grateful that my grandmothers got the opportunity to see me speak at graduation on behalf of the committee—it’s a moment I will never forget.”

Q. What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

This summer, I will be studying for the MCAT, and I plan on working for a couple of years before applying to medical school.

George Matta

George MattaAfter George Matta made some personal experiences with health and the health care system, he became interested in learning more about the human body, mind, and how they function in society, which led him to the public health major at UC Berkeley. With courses covering microbiology, health policy, and innovating community interventions through education, public health combined his passions of education, languages, and social sciences with his new-found interests in science and medicine.

Q. Looking back on your time as a public health student, do you have a favorite memory or story to share?

“My favorite memories as a public health major were usually based on my ability to connect the material I learned from one PH course/experience to another. For example, I took Public Health and Innovation in the Middle East and was able to apply my knowledge of epidemiology, global health, and community health to design a program tackling mental health stigma and fight the increasing incidence of suicide in Lebanon. I found it rewarding to see my education in action, working to help a cause that I am most passionate about.”

Q. What made you decide to join the 2016 class gift committee and how was your experience?

“I joined the 2016 Class Gift Committee because I wanted to be more involved within SPH, especially during my last semester. It was perfect because the gift committee works to give something specific back to the school and its students; it’s not just a random check to an invisible administrator within the university. After the potential closure of the major, I wanted to take action and put in effort to help the School and its students in whatever way I could.”

What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

“I’ll be working with Sutter Health in Physician Operations to help implement Lean management principles in their clinics. I will also be learning how to play the cello!”

Maria Mindanao

Maria MindanaoMaria Mindanao initially chose UC Berkeley to stay close to home. But once she came to visit the campus, future fellow students convinced her that the School was the right fit for her. Public health interested her because of how it incorporates different disciplines from medicine to urban planning, policy, and management and how it takes the best from these fields to improve people’s lives. Maria realized that there is so much opportunity to contribute to the broad field of public health and the necessary work being done. She is particularly interested in working with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. Throughout her time in Berkeley, she had been involved in research projects that emphasize the importance of disaggregated data. She worked to end the Asian American minority myth and to educate others about the disparities that negatively affect the health of the Asian American community.

Q. Looking back on your time as a public health student, do you have a favorite memory or story to share?

“It’s hard to come up with just one favorite memory because so many has been memorable especially since the people I’ve met have all been amazing. I would say one of my favorites was joining the first global health case competition on campus this past spring semester. I’ve never taken part in a case competition prior to this one so it was a brand new experience. It was challenging, but it was fun to collaborate with other students in coming up with a strategy to the issue presented to us.”

Q. What made you decide to join the 2016 class gift committee and how was your experience?

“I joined the class gift committee because my friend was in it and was looking for more people to join and since it wasn’t too much of a time commitment, it was doable with my schedule. I’m glad I joined, though, because we had a fun group and I enjoyed coming up with ways we can fund raise or get our fellow students involved.”

Q. What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?

“For the summer, I have an internship lined up at UCSF Transplant Administration through Health Career Connection. There is obviously a lot that goes on in a hospital that a patient may never see, but still has a crucial impact on the health care they are being provided, so I’m excited to gain some insight and learn about that process.”

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