Global Public Health Graduate Pursuing Masters At USC

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Calling it a leap of faith, Kathy Le ’20 jumped into the Global Public Health program at Dominican University of California and her momentum has carried her to a full-time job as a research associate at Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research located in Oakland, CA. Concurrently, she is pursuing a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Southern California (USC).

“It all clicked at Dominican,” Kathy says. “I learned about effective collaboration through projects and teamwork, and I always saw myself pursuing a leadership role. The skills I learned at Dominican provided me with a strong foundation that I was able to bring over into the workforce. This allowed me to adapt quickly in my role on a research team.”

One of those career-altering projects was Kathy’s senior capstone “Intervention to Influence Healthy Eating Habits Among Dominican University Students: An Examination of Eating Habits.” Concerned about food insecurity among college students, Kathy designed and implemented a pre/post intervention working closely with Dominican’s “Penguin Pantry,” surveying students in line about how they created healthy meals from the free food items they were receiving. She used government-approved recipes from websites such as Choose My Plate, Harvest of the Month, and CalFresh to help these students utilize the available fruits and vegetables.

“She was passionate about this project because it involved her own community and came through in her presentation at the Scholarly and Creative Works Conference,” says Dr. Michaela George, Assistant Professor in the GPH program in the School of Health and Natural Sciences.

Dr. George was Kathy’s faculty mentor for the capstone and greatly influenced Kathy’s experience in the GPH program. She was a Teaching Assistant for Dr. George in her Applied Biostatistics and Health Research Methods classes as well.

“I learned a lot from Dr. George,” Kathy says. “She has a tough love approach, but it’s just the right amount of tough love.”

Kathy, who initially considered joining Dominican’s student nursing program, was drawn to GPH because doing public health research is “like solving a puzzle, where you find pieces of information and put it together to have a final product.” While at Dominican, Kathy served as a Nutrition Wellness Intern at the County of Marin’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). During her time as an intern, she assisted in the planning of the “Fruit and Veggie Fest.”

“There were a lot of demands on her and her time in the Spring of 2020, but I was so impressed that she followed through on all of her responsibilities,” Dr. George says. “Her senior project was very impressive, even though she was hit with a global pandemic in the middle of her data collection period. Without peer-to-peer collaboration, much of public health would not be possible.”

Kathy also was motivated by GPH classmate Maria Alvarez Pineda ‘20. When Maria applied to and was accepted into graduate school to pursue her Master of Public Health/Global Health/Environment at UC Berkeley, Kathy was inspired to do the same. She considered applying to UC Berkeley and Boston University, but USC was her dream school to attend when she was on high school.

About the time Kathy committed to USC, she started her full-time job at Kaiser. She managed to create a flexible schedule at work to accommodate the two online classes she took at USC during the week. Kathy, who always has been interested in pursuing a career in primary prevention in clinical settings and low-income communities, also shifted her career focus. She wants to be a leader.

“When I started at USC, I wanted to pursue a career as a data analyst,” she says. “After doing more work on the operational side of clinical trials and data-only studies as a research associate, I see myself as a project or operations manager for research studies. I enjoy gathering information, understanding all aspects of the study from scientific concepts to executing the methodology of studies, and leading the development of an end product, such as a manuscript.” 

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