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Kaiser Permanente Supports Scholars Committed to Serving the Underserved

To date, Kaiser Permanente has been able to support 83 public health students with scholarships to UC Berkeley

November 6, 2013

The incoming class of the UC Berkeley Kaiser Permanente Public Health Scholars - November 2013

Kaiser Permanente is pleased to welcome the incoming class of the UC Berkeley Kaiser Permanente Public Health Scholars, a group of students committed to serving the underserved.

Now in its fifth year, the scholars program was designed to meet the increasing need for diverse public health workers by providing students the opportunity to receive their education at one of the nation’s premier schools of public health. To date, Kaiser Permanente has been able to support 83 students with scholarships.

“These students have chosen an exciting and important time to broaden their knowledge and develop their skills,” said Raymond Baxter, senior vice president, Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy at Kaiser Permanente. “Our partnership with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health represents our commitment to leadership development and its role in promoting health equity and the elimination of health disparities. We are honored to enable students to pursue studies in this field and, ultimately, deliver their expertise to vulnerable communities.”

This year’s 16 students come from diverse backgrounds and bring a wide range of experience on local and global levels, remarked Stefano Bertozzi, MD, PhD, Dean and Professor of Health Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.

“Already they have demonstrated their commitment to serving underserved communities, in places as far away as Bangalore and Shanghai and as near as San Francisco,” Bertozzi said.

Scholar Sika Gasinu is a first-year Public Health Nutrition MPH student. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, she majored in Health and Societies with a concentration in Public Health and minor in Nutrition.

“Before moving to Berkeley, I spent several months working as a line cook because I had always wanted to go to culinary school,” Gasinu said, adding that her parents, however, urged her to take a more academic route. “While working at the restaurant, I started thinking about why the garlic we used was being sourced from China, instead of local farms. Of course, it all came down to economics. From there, I knew I could apply my academic interest in food sourcing to a practical restaurant setting.  During my time at Cal, I’m eager to explore ways to improve the availability of local food and viability of farm-to-table restaurants — especially in underserved urban communities.”

For scholar Felisa Gonzales, PhD, her interest in public health was sparked during her studies in Guatemala, where she had spent time volunteering a local pharmacy.

“Through that experience it really struck me how issues of access and poverty can influence someone’s health,” she said. “When I came back home, I had the opportunity to work on a few behavioral health studies. I realized I didn’t really have to travel all the way to Guatemala just to experience health disparities — they are occurring here in my own Latino community.”

Dr. Gonzales is a postdoctoral fellow with the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Currently, she is working towards a master of public health in epidemiology at UC Berkeley. She would like to pursue a career as an independent investigator and intends to engage in research efforts that identify environmental factors and psychosocial mechanisms that may be targeted to reduce health disparities among communities of color.

“I am very grateful to Kaiser Permanente for their support of me and my commitment health equity,” she said.

Funded by a $5 million grant from Kaiser Permanente at the East Bay Community Foundation, the program aims to expand California’s public health workforce, with an emphasis on recruiting students from underserved communities and placing them in health departments and other organizations that serve vulnerable populations.