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ColoradoSPH Doctoral Candidates Named APHA & Kaiser Community Health Scholars

National scholarship program is focused on equity and social justice

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Written by Tyler Smith on September 12, 2022

Two Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) students from the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz have been selected as part of the 2022 American Public Health Association (APHA) and Kaiser Permanente (KP)Community Health Scholars program. Makala Carrington and Shenazar (Shane) Esmundo are among the 19 candidates chosen for the competitive scholarships, awarded to graduates seeking either their DrPH or MPH degrees. The awards help to cover tuition expenses.  

The scholarship program “is an initiative to create a group of diverse, underrepresented public health leaders who are committed to improving the health of our most vulnerable communities and supporting achievement of health equity for all in the nation.” ColoradoSPH is one of eight institutions that participate in the program.  

Dani Brittain, PhD, ColoradoSPH’s associate dean for Academic & Student Affairs, said the scholarships – as well as fellowships awarded to two ColoradoSPH MPH graduates – “clearly illustrate the commitment of ColoradoSPH and our graduates towards equity-focused and social justice public health work.” 

Carrington and Esmundo each described their paths to public health, as well as their upcoming work as doctoral candidates, in separate interviews. 

Commitments to military service and to public health make a healthy mix 

Makala Carrington grew up with two influences that at first glance might not seem to have much in common: military service and public health work. For her, they made an ideal fit. 

Carrington grew up in North Carolina near Fort Bragg Army base, one of the nation’s largest military installations. Her father retired there after serving 20 years in the United States Army. She remembers waking up to him singing “jodies,” accompanying him to the base commissary, and seeing people in uniform as a matter of course. 

“That’s the life I grew up living and wanted to continue,” Carrington said. “I wanted to be in that space.” 

At the same time, her mother served the community in public health institutions for more than 20 years, Carrington added. That work also fired her interest. While she was firmly fixed on military service, Carrington found a bridge to public health while scrolling through the United States Air Force website. Looking for jobs, she found one that fit her: public health officer.

Many paths to a profession 

With that, she headed to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in public health. She followed that up with a Master of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Public Health and is now a Doctor of Public Health candidate in the Department of Community & Behavioral Health in ColoradoSPH at CU Anschutz. 

All the while, Carrington’s commitment to military service and public health have never wavered. She is a U.S. Air Force officer with strong experience in programs committed to building community engagement, fostering health equity, and bolstering workforce development and leadership skills.  

“All of my professional and personal experiences pointed to this holistic view of public health,” Carrington said.  

She also found early and enduring career paths through the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As an undergraduate, Carrington joined APHA’s student assembly, served as a campus liaison to the organization and has attended each of its annual meetings since 2017. She is now a section councilor in APHA’s Community Health Planning and Policy Development Section.  

Along the way, Carrington completed two undergraduate internships through the CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars (CUPS)program, first at Morehouse College Public Health Sciences Institute in Atlanta and then the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore. 

A path to injury prevention 

The Johns Hopkins placement proved pivotal in Carrington’s early career. There she met Jackie Campbell, PhD, a professor in the School of Nursing and a nationally recognized expert in domestic and intimate partner violence. Carrington assisted Campbell on a study of domestic violence among the immigrant and refugee communities in the Baltimore area.  

“The work was a turning point for me,” and Campbell became a “lifelong mentor,” Carrington said. A one-year post-MPH fellowship through the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) at CDC’s National Center for Injury and Prevention and Control cemented her commitment to finding ways to protect against injury.  

“Having now worked in injury prevention for three years, I feel that I have found my niche,” Carrington said. 

That work continues at ColoradoSPH, where Carrington is a graduate research assistant with Marian (Emmy) Betz, MD, MPH, a leading national voice in firearm injury prevention. Betz, an emergency medicine physician and epidemiologist, is deputy director of ColoradoSPH’s Injury and Violence Prevention Center. Carrington will work with Betz and her team on a violence prevention project at Buckley Space Force Base in Aurora. 

“Makala’s public health and military background made her a perfect fit,” Betz said. 

Carrington said she also looks forward to helping educate the next generation of public health professionals and increasing the number of underrepresented individuals in the profession. 

The APHA/KP scholarship provides financial support for meeting her goals, but its value goes beyond that, Carrington concluded. 

“It motivates me to do this work,” she said. “It also makes me feel more confident in who I am professionally and in what I can do, and what I am going to do, without any boundaries.” 

A public health career with deep roots in the Filipino community 

Growing up in the Los Angeles area as a first-generation Filipina, Shenazar (Shane) Esmundo readily admits she didn’t know anything about public health until she got to college. Plenty of other everyday concerns occupied her. 

Raised by her mother and grandparents, Esmundo moved around a lot, attending five elementary schools in Los Angeles before she and her family settled in the San Fernando Valley. After high school she enrolled at California State University-Los Angeles, thinking she would be a nurse. After taking some public health courses, she changed her mind.  

“Public health pulled me in, and I wanted to learn more about it,” Esmundo said. “I was drawn in by its connections with real-world issues.” 

The public health challenges she learned about connected on a personal level. The notion that Filipinos and other immigrant communities face language, financial and cultural barriers to good health squared with her own experience and spurred her to do something about it. 

“Growing up I didn’t realize that my family and I went through the same health disparities that I was learning about in class,” Esmundo said. “That was a reflective moment for me.”

A crucial mentorship 

On her way to a bachelor’s degree in public health, Esmundo also found a mentor. Melanie Sabado-Liwag, PhD, MPH, director of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Cal State-LA, and a fellow first-generation Filipina college student, urged Esmundo to consider furthering her education. 

“She opened up the idea of pursuing a master’s degree or acquiring education that I thought wasn’t really possible,” Esmundo said. “It was nice to have a mentor to guide me through the process.” 

The encouragement from Sabado-Liwag proved decisive, and Esmundo went on to complete her MPH at California State-Northridge. She is now on to the next phase of her training, as a Doctor of Public Health candidate in Community and Behavioral Health at ColoradoSPH – CU Anschutz.

A strong record in community health and cancer prevention 

Esmundo brings plenty of hands-on experience to the program. She has worked for the past three years at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, most recently as a clinical research coordinator with the Cancer Research Center for Health Equity. She has moved to Denver, but will continue that work remotely in a part-time role. 

Her interest in and commitment to cancer prevention also has a personal tinge. Her father died from cancer while he lived in another country. 

“Working at the cancer center was coming full circle for me,” Esmundo said. “Losing my dad was a big motivator for doing this work.” 

Esmundo gained early experience at Cedars-Sinai as a research intern. She piloted a cancer awareness campaign in the Filipino community that included a survey measuring knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about cancer screening. The effort collected more than 1,000 surveys; they further revealed that Filipinos underutilize screening services and identified both motivators and barriers to cancer screening. The information helped in designing prevention programs.

Helping others to navigate the healthcare system 

Her later community work included developing training for healthcare navigators to guide people in the Filipino community through the often confounding twists and turns of the medical system. 

“It’s super-challenging to work with the community and get their buy-in,” Esmundo said. “We have to make sure people’s voices are being heard and that we actually listen to them.”  

At ColoradoSPH, Esmundo is a graduate research assistant for Patricia Valverde, PhD, MPH, principal investigator for the Patient Navigator Training Collaborative in ColoradoSPH’s Center for Public Health Practice, and an important champion of the profession. 

“I was excited to see Shane's extensive experience in cancer prevention and control,” Valverde said. “Her research skills will enhance our program evaluation efforts. I can't imagine a better fit for us.”  

The APHA/KP scholarship lifts the financial burden that Esmundo said she felt growing up. But she’s also excited by the opportunity to expand her knowledge of public health and find new ways to help people. She is interested, for example, in exploring ways that technology can improve health and assist in cancer prevention. 

“We’ve made a lot of advances in technology, but people aren’t necessarily advanced in using them,” she said. “How can we bridge that gap?”  

Ultimately, Esmundo aims to help people like those she grew up with build bridges themselves. 

“We might be researchers, but they are the ones who know best about their own communities,” she said. “We must give them a platform that empowers them to make decisions.” 

*  Applications for 2023 - 2024 APHA KP Community Health Scholars are now open for incoming Fall 2023 MPH and DrPH candidates. Prospective applicants may access the application and other required documents by visiting: APHA KP Community Health Scholarship Application. The deadline to apply is the 16th of December, 2022 (11:59 PM EST).