University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: 2017 Rattlinggourd Endowed Fellow

2017 Rattlinggourd Endowed Fellow

04/10/2017
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Community is important to Gabriel Cortez. A member of the Navajo Nation, he has deep connections to his people, the reservation and his home state of New Mexico.

Raised in Aztec, a town 40 minutes away from the Navajo reservation, Cortez is the first of four siblings to finish college and go to graduate school.

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Gabriel Cortez

“My mom raised us off the reservation so we’d have better educational opportunities,” Cortez said. “She wanted to give us a leg up, and now I’m here at one of the best schools in the nation.”

Cortez, an MPH student in the Community-Oriented Public Health Practice program, credits his mother for his passion for public health.

“I lost my mom when I was 21 from complications with stress, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes,” he said. Cortez hopes to use skills learned at SPH to evaluate public health interventions and address the social determinants of health that persist in Native American communities.

“Community, to me, means family,” he said. “It’s about connecting to people, finding common ground and working together to create change and improve health.”

Thanks to the Rattlinggourd Endowed Fellowship, Cortez was able to buy books, statistical analysis software and a new bed, which has improved his health and productivity.

The Rattlinggourd Endowed Scholarship and Fellowship was established by Dylan and Susan Wilbanks. It fosters public health advances in Native American and Alaska Native communities by providing support to public health students who demonstrate promise in working with underrepresented communities.