Picture Perfect Progression To Public Health

Maria Alvarez Pineda ’20 came to Dominican sight unseen, drawn by photographs of campus and the strength of the University’s public health program. 

Now Maria, who also is studying for a major in psychology and a minor in Spanish, is deciding between offers from both UCLA and UC Berkeley to attend their Master of Public Health programs.

“I said yes to Dominican without even visiting. I looked at pictures. That was basically it,” Maria recalls. “When I came to campus on admitted students day, I was so happy that I made the decision. The campus is really beautiful and it’s the perfect size. This university has changed my life.”

A graduate of Vintage High School in Napa, Maria knew that one day she wanted to go to medical school. She had researched more than 20 colleges throughout California and the country before she chose Dominican, attracted by the public health program.

Maria dove into her Dominican Experience.

She joined the Honors Program and contributed to the History of Dominican capstone created by a Public History class. She researched osteoporosis in Mexico and conducted surveys during the summer study abroad program. 

She was scheduled to be among the 41 presenters from Dominican with research accepted at the (now canceled) National Conferences of Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at Montana State University and the (postponed) Western Psychological Association (WPA) in San Francisco. Her research is titled “Effects of the Latinx Parental English Proficiency on Stress.” 

But, the turning point for Maria’s academic career came when she was introduced to her new advisor, Dr. Brett Bayles, assistant professor in the Global Public Health program in the School of Health and Natural Sciences. He invited her to join his research team in studying emerging infectious diseases and the links between global environmental change and human health outcomes. 

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Dominican is one of only a handful of universities offering an undergraduate degree in Global Public Health. Dr. Bayles is at the forefront of the emerging academic discipline of planetary health, which examines how environmental change impacts the spread of disease, including COVID-19 coronavirus.

Dr. Bayles is an epidemiologist. Maria now aspires to be one, too.

“I wanted to be a pediatrician because it’s one-on-one, but with public health is like one-on-the-whole-community. I really like that.”

Maria, who admits she was shy entering Dominican, has found plenty of inspiration on campus. Erika Rosales-Shelfo ’17 was President of the Latinos Unidos club and invited Maria as a freshman to join.

“Erika was the one who pushed me to do other things. She pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Maria says. “I really appreciate her for that.”

Maria became president of the club (now called Latinx Unidx) her sophomore year. She also joined Campus Ministry, the Siena Leadership Team, the IGNITE club, and Penguin Ideals Club.

A first-generation college student, Maria also received support throughout her Dominican journey. 

“I’m really thankful for the relationships I’ve built with so many people on campus and the opportunities brought along by meeting those amazing people,” she says. “I am also really thankful for the Sandy Peeples Scholarship. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be at Dominican.”

Maria was also inspired to join the Peer Mentor Program. She helps incoming first-year students and transfers adjust to life at Dominican. She passes on her positive feelings about all the University has to offer.

“I love the small classes and the relationships I’ve had with my professors. That’s one of my favorite things about Dominican,” Maria says. “I’ve created families with the people I’ve met through the clubs I’ve joined. The best feeling I’ve had is, as a peer mentor, when some of my mentees come up to me and told me they look up to me. That’s something I am always going to take with me being able to impact someone’s life.”

In the meantime, Maria has spent many hours working off campus to put herself through college so she can pursue a career in public health. In 2017 and 2020, she interned at RotaCare Bay Area, Inc., a non-profit health clinic, as an interpreter and support staff member. When it came time to create a personal statement in the graduate school application process, Maria was led by Stacy Davidson, Director of Career Development and Lead Integrative Coach in the Student Success Center.

To Maria, her Dominican experience has been a team effort.

“There’s really great people and really great resources. There’s so much that Dominican offers,” Maria says. “The support is so great from staff and faculty, because they really do want you to succeed and they really do what is the best for you.”

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