Michelle Beam, MPH Infectious Disease and Vaccinology
In tireless heat on a mid-July evening in Washington DC, a woman sat down at a café with me and began to tell me her life story. Hers was a story of urban health disparity so incredible I found it difficult to believe it was the experience of a single person. Her life was punctuated with illness and injustice. Nine of her twelve siblings were now dead—four from diabetes, three from drugs and violence, and two from AIDS. She was sterilized without consent as a teen after the birth of her first child. Three days before I met her she had been hospitalized in a hypertensive crisis, coughing up blood with systolic blood pressure over 200. After sharing her story, she filled up her ice water, wished me luck, and walked slowly down the streets of the gentrified neighborhood she used to call home.
Structural violence, poverty, racism and prejudice intersect to produce profound health disparities. These are not the small issues of a few; rather, they are the pressing issues of many.
I have often felt powerless in the face of these issues and unable to fully articulate their nature or scope.
Witnessing disparity brought me to study public health. I knew that I needed to learn a new vocabulary and tools to make sense of the confused state of health in our country. I hadn’t realized how important leadership was for driving change.
While my education at Berkeley helped me understand the structural factors that drive these injustices, the Fellows program has helped me develop my voice. Through the program I’ve met with leaders in public health in the Bay area and seen what it takes to be an effective advocate. The leaders we’ve met and worked with throughout the program are bold with their vision and they translate thought into action and questions into solutions. We’ve learned how to do the same.
While I continue to struggle and grapple with the injustices experienced by members of my community, I am not willing to be a silent observer. I can contribute to the health, rehabilitation, and resilience of my communities by becoming a leader and an advocate through health.
The Fellows program has helped me appreciate what it means to be a learner for life. Through conversations with local leaders in health, group projects, activities, and presentations, I have come to appreciate that if we limit ourselves to the pursuit of content knowledge, we limit both our learning and our potential to have an impact. Most people in the health professions, be they researchers, clinicians, community advocates, or peer educators want to make an impact. The Fellows program has helped me realize that one must balance content with process, and that self-development is equally as important as any other skillset.
Johnna Flood, MPH, Health and Social Behavior
I have learned many lessons about what it means to be a leader through the Fellows Program, but none as poignant as failure. Before the program, I believed that strong leaders never admitted what they didn’t know; they did whatever it took to figure it out. They didn’t give in to failure.
This was one of the key concepts I was carrying with me when I walked into my first workshop as a Fellow. A team of creative, successful women was there to teach us about the principles and processes of innovation. I was excited by the title of the workshop, but as we broke into teams and were tasked with creating new wallets for each other (yes, what you carry in your pocket or purse), I became paralyzed. I knew we were supposed to be thinking outside of the box, exploring new ideas, playing, but those words were not in my vocabulary. I was so immobilized that I nearly walked away from the exercise—I felt like a failure before I even started.
By sheer will, and determination not to fail, I pushed through and created a wallet. As everyone went around the room sharing their creations and what inspired them, I was shocked. There were 12 different wallet prototypes that were each unique. Some were so absurd you couldn’t imagine them functioning as a wallet, but they were clever and sparked all of us to think a little differently. Who knew there were so many things you could do with a wallet! And then it was my turn to present the wallet I created. I was ashamed and presented it quickly, nearly tossing it aside as I spoke. I hated my wallet and felt I had failed at the assignment to be creative.
But, of course, the point was to fail, for each of us to push ourselves to think beyond our normal boundaries. For many that inspired wild ideas, for me, paralysis.
That was a challenging day for me, but it stuck with me and has influenced my academic, professional and personal life. I realized that being willing to try and fail is the most important and special part of being a leader. If you want change in this world, it will take innovation and that will not come by repeating old ideas but instead testing out new ideas—and failing—until one takes shape that matters.
Ryan Gamba, MPH, Maternal and Child Health
The Fellows program was not always easy. It was difficult for me to focus on myself and reflect on what I needed to work on to become a better leader. However, after the check-ins, surveys, committees, life coaching, media training, workshops, field trips, mirror exercises, team bonding and self-reflection, I feel more capable as a leader. I know looking back at graduate school I will not remember all of the logistic regressions I ran, but the relationships built and the personal development that took place through the Fellows program.
Jazmine Garcia Delgadillo, MPH Health and Social Behavior
I was drawn to Fellows because it was constantly described as a meaningful experience in which everyone had the opportunity to develop leadership skills. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure of what exactly ‘leadership skills’ meant. But I always envisioned a leader as being someone that had much more experience than myself with the initiative and ability to inspire people to work towards a common goal. I viewed Fellows as my pathway to becoming that type of leader one day. But ever since I joined Fellows, I have had the opportunity to spend my Fridays with 12 other amazing individuals that continuously inspire me through their hard work, passion and dedication. Through them, I have learned that it is possible to be a leader at any stage of your life and professional career. Fellows allowed me to become aware of my assets and how to use them to their full potential, while giving me the opportunity to delve into the professional aspects I wanted to develop. In Fellows I was constantly reflecting on group dynamics and the overall processes of reaching goals in teams to improve collaboration and achieve better outcomes. Fellows has helped me redefine myself as the type of leader I want to be and has given me the necessary skills and experience to really make a difference wherever I am.
Erica Jimenez, MPH (Health and Social Behavior), MSW (Mental Health) Dual Degree
Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you’ll help them to become what they are capable of becoming.
This quote perfectly captures the essence of the Fellows program, and it is a practice I intend to carry forward. This amazing opportunity provided me with the space, experiences, and access to inspiring mentors and peers who helped me find my voice and develop a leadership style that fits with who I want to be personally and professionally. Fellows is unlike any other program I have encountered, and I am extremely grateful to have gone on this transformative journey with 12 other amazing Fellows who perpetually awe and inspire me! More specifically, I gained confidence in public speaking, learned much about teamwork and effective group processes, and was encouraged to bring all parts of who I am to the professional table. I am especially thankful for the Innovation Consulting Team Project – working with the City of Richmond on its Health in All Policies Initiative was an exciting opportunity to give back to the community, and it also introduced me to the collaborative, systems-level type of work that inspires me. Post Fellows, I will be moving to Atlanta for a Presidential Management Fellowship at the CDC where I will work in the Office of the Associate Director for Policy, Office of the National Prevention Strategy. I will get to blend my passion for healthcare reform, place-based health initiatives, and breeding interdepartmental & cross-sector collaboration all into one position – I can’t wait!
Richard Lechtenberg, MPH Epidemiology/Biostatistics
The Center for Health Leadership (CHL) Fellows Program was a core part of my education at the School of Public Health. My main mission when I came back to UC Berkeley for my Masters of Public Health was to sharpen my analytic skills. And that’s precisely what I did in my coursework, where I piled on the epidemiology and biostatistics courses. The Fellows program complimented that by offering a structured and supportive environment in which to develop my “soft” skills, the kinds of non-technical skills stereotypically lacking in us analytic types (I’ll admit some responsibility for perpetuating that stereotype!) but which are so crucial to any of the work one might do out in the “real world.” Data and analysis are powerful tools, but the transformative power of data is exponentiated if one can clearly communicate it in an engaging manner and format, skillfully facilitate productive discussion of it, deftly negotiate the decisions that data might prompt with stakeholders, and manage a team in implementing any projects that might come out of those discussions and decisions. In my coursework, I learned how to parameterize logistic regression models, perform sample size calculations, and design studies to characterize the etiologies of disease, but it was the Fellows program that helped me develop the skills I will need away from the computer. I’m hopeful that those skills which I developed as a CHL Fellow will open up opportunities for me get out from behind my computer monitor and play a leadership role in turning data into meaningful action and, ultimately, improved population health outcomes. Over the past three semesters, I’ve gained an appreciation of the importance of process in unleashing the potential inherent in teamwork and deepened my commitment to continuing to develop my leadership abilities. And the icing on the cake: an amazing group of individuals I can call friends!
Meredith Lee, MPH, Environmental Health Sciences
When I learned about the CHL Fellows program, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. I came back to graduate school because I thought I needed the hard technical skills to be an effective leader in my field, but what I have learned through my time as a Fellow is the importance of the soft skills. The Fellows Program has given me the space and support to really explore me and to work on my own personal development.
I am also extremely thankful for the Innovation Consulting Team Project, where I worked with the City of Richmond on its Health in All Policies Initiative. I have now been with the City as an intern for over a year and will continue on through the fall. This project introduced me to the collaborative, systems-level type of work focused on health equity, that I am excited to continue to pursue throughout my career as a public health practitioner.
I feel prepared for the next stage in my career since Fellows provided me with tools to accompany my technical training. The Fellows Program was a valuable part of my education at the School of Public Health, and I am very thankful for the supportive environment and friendships.
Jennifer (Jenny) Martinez, MPH, Infectious Disease and Vaccinology
I returned to school on a search. I was looking for a more complete understanding of the foundational concepts of public health. I wanted the vocabulary to discuss current research on health issues. I needed the exposure to the breadth of intervention designs to improve a population’s health. These academic areas have been fascinating, and I have enjoyed digging deep into work with infectious diseases, statistics, nutrition, and health policy. However, my search was broader than that. I was also looking for the training that would enable me to deploy this newly honed knowledge in the real world, and I found the forum to pursue these areas in the Center for Health Leadership Fellows Program.
Meeting facilitation, team building, work planning, and public presentation skills are among the many tools I have learned that will help me to work more effectively with my future co-workers and to confidently communicate my ideas in the workplace. The biggest change I have experienced though is the shift in my feelings about that terrible activity – networking. The mere mention of the term would previously draw my stomach into knots. I was not a schmoozer, was not interested in meaningless small talk, and detested the idea of “working a room.” But the Fellows program has changed my understanding by encouraging me to engage in over six months of informational interviewing. Each conversation has been incredibly helpful in guiding my career trajectory, has lead to several meetings with other related professionals, and has typically ended with my interviewee explicitly excited for my future. My network has grown organically, one conversation at a time. I’ve now reached the point of receiving duplicate recommendation for additional conversations, confirming the robustness of the network I have built. This is a different definition of networking than what I had held before, and one that fits my personality, leans on my strengths of one-on-one interpersonal relationships, and has proven incredibly effective for my professional growth. These conversations have firmly oriented me towards my future, and have affirmed my focus on operations and quality improvement in the Bay Area’s health care safety net. With the tools from the Fellows program paired with my academic expertise, I look forward to my professional road ahead with excitement and confidence, and I look back to the CHL with great gratitude.
Juliana Oronos, MPH, Health Policy & Management, Specialty in Aging
When I came back to UC Berkeley for my MPH, I was excited to find personal growth opportunities through the Center for Health Leadership. I was determined to develop and practice leadership skills, and our Fellows cohort was brought together with a common interest in improving our self-awareness. Beyond expanding my public health vocabulary, I wanted to gain a better understanding of how I could improve care delivery as a healthcare leader. Over the course of the program I benefitted from personal coaching, as well as developing presentation and facilitation skills. I now feel confident in the strength of my voice, as well as my ability to communicate my ideas. In addition, my commitment to informational interviews throughout the program has enabled me to expand my network through meetings with public health leaders and innovators. One of the many exciting aspects of these experiences was that many were past Fellows and graduates of the School of Public Health. Each conversation has been incredibly valuable in guiding my career trajectory, and I look forward to speaking with future School of Public Health students! I feel prepared for the next stage in my career since Fellows provided me with tools to accompany my academic background. The Fellows Program was a valuable part of my education at the School of Public Health, and I am very thankful for the supportive environment and friendships.
Francesca Osuna, MPH (Health and Social Behavior) / MSW (Children and Families) Dual Degree Program
When I began the Fellows program, I expected to be a leader behind the scenes. I didn’t want be the person giving a speech; I wanted to be the person who worked hard to keep that person organized, informed and prepared. I didn’t think I had what was needed to be a traditional leader. But over the past 18 months, something has shifted in me. Maybe it was seeing our project at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) actually make a difference, talking to my coach in the most challenging moments of the comp exam, meeting so many inspiring public health leaders, or learning all those new skills and tools during our marathon Friday sessions. Somewhere along the line, I started to believe that I could be more of a front line leader. Furthermore, we did 360 assessments and I realized that other people saw me as a front line leader. Now, as I prepare to venture out into the professional world again, I do so armed with a new confidence that I would not have found without being a Fellow.
Another thing I will treasure from my experience is the friendships I’ve built with the other Fellows. Doing a dual degree meant that I ping-ponged back and forth between three cohorts of students and didn’t really belong anywhere. As a Fellow, I found a new place to belong, where I was exposed to disciplines and ideas outside of what I would have otherwise encountered. I found a group of people who were invested in growing, learning and supporting the rest of the group in whatever way they could. They helped me get through some very difficult months and I will be forever grateful to know and learn from them. I found and developed some of my closest friendships in the Fellows program, which is something I will value long after all my papers have been turned in and after all my internships have ended.
Kelsie Scruggs, MPH Environmental Health Sciences
As a new admit to UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health I was looking to find my place as a public health professional. I was delighted when I discovered The Center for Health Leadership (CHL). I was instantly drawn to the CHL’s Fellows Program and hoped it would help me learn more about being a leader. The first thing I was told about leadership is to “lead from where you are.” I have to say, it took almost the entire 18-months for me to figure out what that truly meant. Over the course of the program I benefitted from personal coaching, presentation and facilitation skills development. I met with many public health leaders and innovators, and broadened my network. I learned more about my working style, and more importantly learned the value of teamwork. I will take the skill-set I have developed through this program with me throughout my career. My fellow Fellows have inspired me with their passion, ambition, and dedication to personal growth, and I am honored to have been a part of this program with them. I now have the confidence to say I look forward to starting my career as a public health leader.
Delilah Sundown, MPH, Health Policy and Management
Partaking in the CHL Fellows program has made my time at Berkeley much richer for numerous reasons but one of my favorite parts of the program has been partaking in the 18-month long project. The typical class project only lasts one semester, which doesn’t allow students to go very deep into a specific issue. The Fellows project gave our team an opportunity to embed ourselves within San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) as consultants and work on a project that provided a tangible benefit to specialty clinics within the organization. Our team built a poster that utilizes poker chips to measure patients experience at the clinic. It is a very low-tech, easy to change, solution to obtaining quick data regarding patient experience without the burden of long surveys.
This project allowed me to see first hand how quality improvement work is done within a large public hospital and provided me and my team first-hand experience in launching a pilot, making small tests of change by incorporating user feedback, and spreading the pilot to new clinics. Not only was this project a great opportunity to build leadership capacity through interaction with my team and our project sponsor but the content was also directly in line with my interests.
This past spring, while interviewing for full-time positions related to delivery system redesign and quality improvement, I was constantly speaking to my involvement in the SFGH fellows project as a strong example of the work I had done and the skills and insight I would be able to bring to a future position. As a result of that, this summer I will be starting a position in quality improvement where I will be able to draw on my experience both from the Fellows program as a whole but more specifically from the work I was able to accomplish with my team at SFGH.
Elizabeth (Liz) Taing, MPH (Maternal & Child Health) / MSW (Management & Planning)
When I first heard about the Center for Health Leadership’s Fellows Program, I was intrigued. I had always considered “leadership” to be something to aspire for, something that people gain over time with maturity and experience, something that I might be able to achieve someday. I never considered myself to be a leader, and I certainly had never heard of the notion of “leading from where you are.”
Being a part of the Fellows Program changed my definition of leadership entirely. I realized that being a leader is not just about position, power, and abilities; leadership is a mindset. It is understanding who I am and what I can offer to a position, a project, or a team—and being able to bring my best self forward in that context. One of the most important things that I gained from the program was not the many leadership skills I learned and strengthened; rather it was the time, space, and support that the Fellows Program gave me to work on my own self-awareness and personal growth. It provided me with a group of 12 other incredible people with whom I could grow and learn, not only about myself, but also about how I function with others, and how these and other relationships build the foundations of our lives.
Eighteen months later, I have emerged from the Fellows Program a leader. I’m not perfect—and I never will be—but I am much more sure of who I am and what I want to be. Because of the Fellows Program, I have grown immeasurably in the last year and a half. Without it, I would be but a shadow of myself—and for that, I am infinitely grateful.