Gates Millennium Scholars pursuing public health degrees to help the communities they call home
Working in the fields alongside his migrant farmer parents, Carlos Mendoza dreamed of the opportunity to attend college. His dream became a reality when he was accepted into the Gates Millennium Scholars program. This program provides deserving students who are often the first in their family to attend college the financial opportunity to do so.
Mendoza is one of three Gates Millennium Scholars currently pursuing graduate degrees at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. Each of the three students hopes to return home and impact the underserved communities from which they came.
Mendoza chose to study public health because it is a population-based discipline where he can impact more people rather than just helping one person at a time. He was delighted when he learned of the school’s online master’s degree in epidemiology, which he is completing without leaving his home in Edinburg, Texas
“I did not want to be far from my family, so the online degree option was a perfect fit for me,” Mendoza said. “I am really enjoying the program and the faculty are very helpful.”
His goal is to eventually work in Hidalgo County as an epidemiologist researching methods to reduce diabetes among Latinos.
Blanca Olivia Macareno is also a graduate student whose parents are migrant farmers. Both her father and mother emigrated from Mexico seeking a better life for themselves and their family back in Mexico. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in health policy and management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and hopes to eventually either attend medical school or obtain a doctorate.
“I desire to help meet the health care needs of both Latino and rural populations, since both have been an important part of my life,” Macareno said.
In particular, she is interested in health services research policy for rural communities and chronic disease management intervention for Latino populations, as well as health inequities for both populations. Macareno is currently a research assistant at the school working on the Medicaid 1115 waiver program that evaluates the integration of primary care and mental health, and enjoyed conducting focus groups, one in Spanish, to help determine the pros and cons of the program.
Krystal Flores was raised in La Grulla, Texas, where the rate of teen pregnancies is extremely high.
“When I was in high school, I was astonished that many of my classmates had one or more children before they graduated,” Flores said.
Throughout high school and college, Flores participated in outreach programs to educate young adults on pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention in the colonias of South Texas and also worked with “Pep Talk Kingsville,” a monthly forum associated with the local Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition to raise awareness of teen pregnancy.
She completed her master’s degree from the Texas A&M School of Public Health at the McAllen campus and is currently pursuing a doctorate in health promotion and community health sciences at the College Station campus.
“I truly believe education is the key to prevention, and prevention is key to a healthier South Texas,” Flores said. “Once I complete my doctorate, I hope to return to La Grulla to work on reducing teen pregnancy and STD rates.”
The three students are pursing different public health degrees, but all share the same passion – to use the public health skills and knowledge they are learning to give back to the communities they call home.
“Many individuals in the communities that need public health interventions the most do not have the opportunity or financial resources to seek a formal education,” Flores said. “I have been given a tremendous gift and I hope to one day give back to the community I love.”