Monica De La Cruz Awarded the 2023 Distinguished Adjunct Teaching Award
I am very excited to be the recipient of the 2023 Distinguished Adjunct Teaching Award. It's an awesome award! Everything has come full circle. I am a 2015 graduate of the MPH program. It's not a secret that USF and the MPH program, in particular, changed my professional trajectory. I had been rejected for medical school twice. I was sorely under-prepared for medical school admissions and interviews. I needed to understand the health and medical systems in the United States, so I decided to complete an MPH and planned to reapply to medical school.
Within the MPH program, I was looking for my Applied Practice Experience (ALEX) placement. Because I was an American Public Health Association (APHA) student member and a part of the Maternal and Child Health Section, I emailed their listserv describing my need for an internship along with my resume.
As a result of my connection with APHA, Dr. Janine Bruce contacted me from the Stanford School of Medicine. She worked in the Pediatric Advocacy Program and needed an intern to do qualitative interviews over the summer. I had never done qualitative research before; my experience was as a bench scientist during my undergraduate at San Francisco State. This opportunity completely changed what I thought of research and public health.
I led this qualitative research project with Dr. Bruce, interviewing parents of child participants of a lunch program at the local libraries in San Mateo County and San Jose. The stories we heard were powerful. I loved collecting and hearing their stories. I also understood we were elevating what they had to say, and the impact of the lunch program. This was the kind of research I wanted to do!
I shared with Dr. Bruce that I wanted to continue to do this type of research. Fortunately, she was able to find funding to hire me full-time as the Program Manager of the Pediatric Advocacy Program right after I completed my MPH.
Medical school never crossed my mind again. I worked for five years at Stanford and led several qualitative research projects addressing poverty. During my time at Stanford, I worked with an interdisciplinary team of researchers, public health professionals, nurses, social workers, and pediatricians. While our projects addressed community-level poverty, we noticed the same families seeking services at each of our programs, and it became clear to me that we were not changing the overall circumstances of our clients and patients.
I applied to the Ph.D. program and Social Welfare at UC Berkeley with my eye on enacting policy change through research on family poverty. I am now a part of the Abundant Birth Project as a graduate student researcher. This program is the first guaranteed income pilot for Black and Pacific Islander birthing people in San Francisco, in hopes of positively impacting the birth outcomes in these communities. As part of the pilot, we are evaluating the program to understand what the impact of the guaranteed income has been on participants including on stress, depression, and anxiety levels.
Teaching at USF has given me the opportunity to give back. I have a unique perspective as an alumni turned faculty, because I understand the stress students in the MPH program experience. I know many of them work full-time, as I did during my time in the program, and are juggling multiple other responsibilities all while keeping up with their studies.
As faculty, one of the things I've incorporated in my Environmental and Occupational Health class is student-led class facilitations. I prefer to avoid lecture-based classes, particularly when hands-on experiential learning is essential, and I want more interaction in class. For my classes, students develop their presentations and come up with activities that encourage meaningful discussions. For example, one of our modules is about water and water pollution. For this class, student facilitators asked the class to bring a water sample from work, school, or home and provided testing strips to assess the levels of different chemicals in the water. We each tested our water, looked at the different results, and discussed how some water had more chemicals. Where did each sample come from? Why did we think some chemicals were more prevalent in certain water samples as compared to others? The material became real for students.
I love academia and have found fantastic professional development opportunities at USF as an adjunct faculty. Being part of the program that changed my life has been a joy and privilege.