From the Fresno State campus to the islands of the Dominican Republic, Master of Public Health student Cassie Valencia has spread her love and knowledge of public health near and far.
The Visalia native will earn her Master of Public Health degree this month and was recently selected as the 2020 graduate student ambassador from the Department of Public Health. However, she didn’t always picture herself in the public health realm.
As a sophomore at Cal State East Bay, Valencia contemplated majoring in microbiology with the goal of becoming a lab technician. But an internship opportunity with the campus’ health center changed the course of her education and career.
“You know that feeling where you wake up one day having to do something that you dread, and you want to just stay in bed? I never felt that way with my internship,” Valencia said. “I ended up learning more about health promotion and health education and fell in love with what I was doing and also understood what I was doing. I never felt lost or unsure.”
Afterwards, Valencia officially changed her major to health sciences and later earned her bachelor’s degree in the field. She decided to further her education at Fresno State, and enrolled into the Master of Public Health program in August 2015.
Since then, she has been keeping active on the Fresno State campus, particularly with the University’s Student Health and Counseling Center, where she has been involved for the past five years in various roles. Her first role was as a member and later ambassador of the the Student Health Advisory Committee – a program that serves as a bridge between students and the Student Health and Counseling Center administration.
The next year, Valencia joined the Peer Ambassador of Wellness (PAWS) program working within health promotion, prevention and education. After a year, she was promoted to student coordinator, working closely with health education staff and supervisor of the PAWS. She later returned to the Student Health Advisory Committee as its chair.
Of her time in the program, Valencia said,
“Though I had many tasks as a student coordinator, the biggest task was becoming the program planner and coordinator for the WATCHDOG Safety Summit – a two-day safety and CPR training for 60-80 students. I had the pleasure of coordinating this program for four semesters as well as volunteer with it during my time as a PAW. On another note – as chair of the Student Health Advisory Committee, we had a big task of advocating for students in the goal of increasing the Student Health and Counseling Center’s fees. I along with other members were able to support administration with panels and meetings regarding the fee increase and explain that it would be used to hire more staff for counseling services.”
Valencia found her work at the health center so compelling that she turned it into her master’s thesis, “Barriers to Usage of the Student Health and Counseling Center by California State University, Fresno Students”. Her study delved into the barriers or reasons why students chose to not use the Student Health and Counseling Center services. Her reasons for researching this topic was both academic and personal.
“I’ve worked with the Student Health and Counseling Center for about four years and have close connections with the staff,” Valencia said. “I wanted to help their administration find out what these barriers were in order to determine if any improvements can be made to cause more student visitations.”
Moving forward with her thesis, Valencia chose to survey Fresno State students and question their barriers in order to explore the gaps in the literature she discovered.
Among Valencia’s best memories during her graduate years is her time studying abroad in the Dominican Republic exploring health on a global scale. She experienced this trip two times – in 2016 and 2018. While there, Valencia and her study abroad classmates performed community service work in the bateyes, which are sugar cane villages home to some of the region’s poorest residents. Many of the homes lack basic necessities like electricity, clean water and nutritious food.
Valencia not only participated in the trip, but played a large role in recruiting fellow classmates and peers to attend, leading recruitment efforts, leading marketing campaigns, orientations and fundraising. Funds raised were used to purchase food, water filtration devices, mosquito nets, and feminine hygiene products for families in the area.
“While maintaining high grades in the Master of Public Health program, Cassie has been heavily involved in extra curricular activities including leadership positions in the Dominican Republic summer program, as well as scholarly activity in the form of published papers,” said Dr. Miguel Perez, professor and program coordinator of the Master of Public Health program. “She is a great example of how to translate theory into practice in the field of public health. Her experiences will no doubt help her professionally going forward.”
Valencia’s next goal is to serve her new community of Newport Beach, California as a health educator in higher education.