Meet our scholarship recipients: Cassidy Hernandez-Tamayo

Cassidy Hernandez-Tamayo is a 2020 recipient of the Keck School of Medicine scholarship for incoming master’s students. She is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree at USC.

What has been your journey over the last few years?

Cassidy Hernandez-Tamayo (Image courtesy Cassidy Hernandez-Tamayo)

I am a 2016 graduate of Iolani School in Honolulu, Hawaii, and recently graduated this past March 2020 from the University of Washington at Seattle with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Public Health-Global Health. During my undergraduate studies, I joined the University of Washington’s Public Health Brigade to Honduras in June 2018 where we taught public health issues to the community and built sanitation stations for the village. Moreover, I interned for the Vulnerable Population Strategic Initiative’s (VPSI) Stroke and CPR Outreach Program to Older Adults in Washington wherein I educated older adults in recognizing and responding to life threatening medical emergencies like strokes, cardiac arrests, hypertension, and fall prevention. In August of 2020, I began attending the University of Southern California (USC) where I am pursuing a Masters of Public Health degree specializing in Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

How do you hope to make a difference in public health?

I long to take what I learn from USC and return to Hawaii, the place where I was born and raised, to assist the community and locate innovative solutions as public health issues continue to plague Hawaii. I aspire to work in a clinical setting in the field of biostatistics and epidemiology to analyze and assist with epidemic outbreaks affecting society. In addition to conducting research to examine the spread of diseases and developing a method for prevention and control, I would like to work directly with the public when epidemic outbreaks arise to assist in uncovering treatments for the infections and preventing further spread. Thus, I would like to reach out and impact society in the field of public health as humanity will be my patient.

My dream of working in the public health field and love for travel can be intertwined in ways that I wish to give back to Hawaii. First of all, although many of Hawaii’s youngsters are leaving Hawaii for claims of better cost of living standards on the continental United States, I yearn to dedicate a portion of my life to working in Hawaii and impacting the community I grew up in with the knowledge I gain from the Master of Public Health program by providing services that benefit residents in the surrounding areas. Events such as these are important because they are excellent sources of potentially life-saving assistance that help to ensure that our fellow citizens are benefited indeed. Furthermore, because of my love for travel, I desire to provide free public health services by joining public health and medical missions that proceed to places in Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and other areas where epidemic outbreaks occur, to assist in locating cures for diseases and prevent the spread of the infections. The impact will be felt far beyond Hawaii’s borders. Thus, I would be able to make an immense influence in humanity in the public health field.

What led you to pursue an MPH degree?

I became interested in the public health field in middle school. At the age of eleven, I seized the initiative to organize, acquire donations, and distribute food for my church’s food bank for a school project. That leadership role persisted through high school. Moreover, while a student at Iolani School, several of my many community service activities relating to public health included organizing my church’s food bank, arranging and delivering donations to a homeless shelter, cleaning up a charity house, and volunteering at an emergency preparedness fair.

During my undergraduate studies, my favorite class at the University of Washington was the Research Methods class wherein I conducted an entire research study and wrote a research protocol and report with my colleagues during the fall of 2019 that determined the correlation between a sense of belonging and perceived ability to succeed academically among students of different racial groups at the University of Washington. I enjoyed conducting this research study and hope to conduct more research studies on various public health topics in the future. Additionally, I wrote a mini-version of a grant that examined the relationship between formaldehyde exposure and its health effects related to nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia. The grant proposal contained the problem statement, project goals, objectives, methods, and evaluation. As a part of this grant, I wrote a literature review regarding research on formaldehyde exposure. Thus, I enjoyed the Research Method course and conducting research in the public health field. Thus, I yearned to continue my education in public health and pursue a degree in the Master of Public Health program specializing in biostatistics and epidemiology.

USC was definitely my first choice university because of its outstanding reputation and appeared to be the best fit for me. Moreover, USC has always been my dream school, and that aspiration has finally come to fruition.

What does this scholarship mean to you?

This scholarship is extremely meaningful as this subsidy displays USC’s confidence in me. I am able to utilize this scholarship to complete my graduate studies and in turn assist the lives of others in the field of public health.

What has been your experience at USC so far?

Unfortunately, my first year of graduate school at USC has been online from home in Hawaii due to COVID-19. My favorite class so far has been PM 512 (Principles of Epidemiology). As an epidemiology intern for the State of Hawaii Department of Health’s Disease Outbreak Control Division, my learnings from PM 512 and my internship have overlapped, strengthening my knowledge about the epidemiologic concepts.

How do you see your degree helping to drive your future?

Upon graduation, I plan to pursue a PhD in Epidemiology. Furthermore, I aspire to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and/or the State of Hawaii Department of Health.

How are you making a difference in public health outside of the classroom?

Currently, I am an epidemiology intern for the State of Hawaii Department of Health’s Disease Outbreak Control Division, wherein one of my supervisors is State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. This internship has enabled me to receive extensive experience in the biostatistics and epidemiology field as I have been assisting in combating COVID-19. Some of the statistics and information that are being released by the Department of Health regarding COVID-19 are part of my research and work. For instance, I have performed numerous projects in relation to COVID-19 in Hawaii and its schools; conducted literature reviews on Hispanic populations and COVID-19 and the public health effectiveness of Google/Apple Exposure Notification; and completed primary cleaning of missing Asian and Pacific Islander race data and school COVID-19 case data. For my capstone/practicum for USC, I am planning on executing a data project that looks at coding address data provided by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) into census tracts which would allow the Disease Outbreak Control Division (DOCD) of the Hawaii State Department of Health to perform more granular geographic analysis on socioeconomic status and vulnerability of COVID cases using CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.

What message would you like to share with your scholarship donor?

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my scholarship donor who has given selflessly to make a difference in the lives of others. Thank you for your generous offer of providing me with financial assistance during my graduate studies at USC. I will make you proud!

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