I AM FPHLP 2016: Jennifer Gonzalez

Jennifer GonzalezA few years ago, a friend of hers participated in a CDC-funded program. He told her all about the experience and encouraged her to apply. Despite her uncertainty, she visited the FPHLP website and read about the former participants. Their reflections were energizing, and she realized she could not pass up an opportunity to explore her interest in public health while also developing a clearer vision for her future.

Jennifer Gonzalez was part of the 2016 FPHLP cohort. She graduated this past December from Texas A&M University where she majored in Biomedical Sciences and minored in Art—New Media. Last summer, Jennifer's field placement was with Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Her and her partner researched factors contributing to patient no-shows and developed strategies to reduce rates, which they presented to clinic staff. They also worked closely with a health coach to plan and teach nutrition lessons. Jennifer recalls, "After nutrition classes, we would visit the local farmers market with our students to purchase unique fruits and vegetables and then go back to the clinic's kitchen to have a taste test. We would go around and talk about what we liked or did not like, the benefits of specific food items, and how we could start including them in our diet."

As a self-described introvert, during the program, Jennifer struggled with feeling like she always had to be "on" and extroverted. "Although I knew that I would make the most out of this program by getting to know people, it was really challenging for me," she explains. "During the evenings, I began placing myself in common areas, even if I was working on my own thing. This put me in a position to see other FPHLPers as they would walk by and to start forming relationships that stemmed from our short conversations." Another challenge Jennifer describes was feeling bombarded by information at the beginning of the program. She says, "The first few weeks happened so fast, and I felt that there was a lot of valuable material to take in." Jennifer found it helpful to reflect on her experiences by writing about them.

Some of her more memorable experiences as a FPHLP participant include traveling to the CDC and visiting Chicago, Illinois. Ultimately, though, it was the opportunity to meet and get to know people from all over the country that ended up being the highlight of Jennifer's summer. "It amazed me that even though we were such a diverse group, we could always find similarities and bond over the conversations we shared. Everyone was always willing to listen to your story and perspective, which is something I really appreciated. . . . Being able to learn from the FPHLP coordinators and the staff from my field placement was also a huge plus for me."

Since completing the program, Jennifer has had a full schedule, applying to graduate schools, planning the 29th Annual Student Conference on Latino Affairs, and participating in hackathons. "A hackathon," she explains, "is a 24- to 48-hour competition where students get to create anything they want by using technology. While attending MedHacks at Johns Hopkins University, a hackathon geared specifically towards healthcare and biotechnology, my team and I developed a mobile application for children with cognitive and motor disabilities. We were awarded fourth place as well as the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Prize."

Currently, Jennifer works as a graphic designer. She also recently started a project that uses photography and storytelling to share authentic stories about women. With funds raised through the Liberación Initiative, she is raising money to give a scholarship to a senior from her former high school. This fall, Jennifer will return to the University of Michigan to begin working toward her MPH in the Health Behavior and Health Education program. She believes that FPHLP gave her the guidance and confidence needed to get through the application process. "I never imagined myself going out of state," she says, "much less attending one of the nation's top universities." Through the master's program, Jennifer hopes to learn more about health disparities, non-profit health organizations, and how technology can be used in research, prevention strategies, and treatment.

Even if it is intimidating, Jennifer recommends that anyone considering FPHLP should apply. "Some students may feel like they are not good enough or that they will not make it, but I encourage them to do so anyway. You never know unless you try." For this year's cohort, Jennifer suggests that they be authentic and open-minded. "Always make an honest effort to learn from every situation, whether that is talking with other participants, volunteering, or working at your field placement."