Thirty high school students from the Yakima Valley learned that public health covers just about everything – from clean water to injury prevention to immunizations – on their recent visit to the School of Public Health. The students, who are considering careers in health care, also learned that public health is affected by a wide range of factors, from level of education to the gap between rich and poor. The hope is that they will go into healthcare careers and take their knowledge back to their communities.
Above: Victor Ramos from Sunnyside visits the lab of PhD student Vanessa Galaviz
"In my mind, when I look around, everything is public health," said Sierra Rotakhina, one of three MPH students who facilitated small-group discussions with the visitors. "Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is part of this."
Rotakhina led sessions with Angie Wood and Genya Shimkin, second-year graduate students in Community-Oriented Public Health Practice. The groups discussed everything from sugary sodas in vending machines to how policy makers can improve a community through better sidewalks. "We wanted to expose them to what public health actually looks like," said Deb Hinchey, director of Student Affairs for the School of Public Health. "Our ultimate goal was to get them excited about public health and to see health as a community issue."
The high school students are part of a program called ConneX, which seeks to link students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds to higher education in healthcare. Many students said they wanted to go on to become doctors or to work in clinics or hospitals.
ConneX has operated since 2001 and was the brainchild of Carlos Oliveras, CEO of the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic. "He wanted to grow professionals from the people being served by the clinics," said Marty Lentsch, ConneX Coordinator. "The overarching goal was to have trained students return to the Valley to increase access to healthcare for the underserved and rural populations." Lentsch said high-achieving students face many barriers, including poverty and parents with little to no education. ConneX guides them to getting degrees and returning to the Valley.
So far, according to Lentsch, more than 500 students have taken part in the middle school, high school and college programs. Every one of the participating high school students has gone on to college, including some Ivy League schools, Lentsch said, while about 80 percent end up attending colleges or universities in Washington state.
A 2010 survey showed that about 75 percent of students are in healthcare fields. Roughly 45 percent are working in Yakima Valley healthcare facilities.
At the end of their visit to the School of Public Health, students said they had learned many things: