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Fellowships forge a brighter future for public health

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“The Kayne Fellowship meant I could choose a job that best meets my passions and career goals, rather than one that merely meets my financial requirements.”

BORN INTO A FAMILY OF TEACHERS, social workers and psychologists, Devin Saragosa-Harris grew up in Southern California believing that a life working for others was the only one worth pursuing.

A recent graduate of the Fielding School’s Department of Community Health Sciences, Saragosa-Harris had the opportunity while still at FSPH to apply her education through work with 9 Dots Community Learning Center, a Hollywood nonprofit that runs after-school projects for disadvantaged Latino students. She worked as a tutor and developed health education materials focused on nutritional topics, such as the sugar content in beverages and the need for balanced meals.

During the second year of her MPH program, Saragosa-Harris was chosen to be among the first cohort of students to receive a fellowship made possible through a generous gift from Ric and Suzanne Kayne. Fellowships like these are designed to eliminate some of the financial barriers that students face while providing them the time and flexibility they need to complete their studies, then find quality jobs that match their passions and will have the greatest potential impact on public health.

The Kayne Fellowship did just that for Saragosa-Harris. “I was pretty sure I wanted to be working for a nonprofit,” she says, “so having that financial support during a time when I could be depleting all of my financial resources was very helpful.”

At the end of her job search, Saragosa-Harris chose to rejoin 9 Dots, this time as a program manager. She credits the financial support she received with helping her return to work that she finds most meaningful. “Being less burdened by student loans allowed me to pursue a position with a communitybased organization with targeted programs for underserved populations,” she says. Saragosa-Harris now recruits students from 14 schools to participate in 9 Dots programs, trains new tutors, and is designing a new curriculum to include a stronger focus on health through a rigorous and structured fitness program, the creation of a community garden, and an emphasis on food deserts and nutrition. This emphasis meets an acute need in Los Angeles, where more than 38 percent of youth are overweight or obese, and where an estimated one in three young adults now have diabetes or prediabetes, according to a study by the FSPH-based UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Saragosa-Harris is one of 12 Kayne Fellows who have devoted their careers to transforming health in communities of high need throughout California and across the country. Other fellows are doing invaluable work on chronic diseases, maternal-child health, cancer prevention, health care delivery, and health communications at organizations such as AltaMed, Project Angel Food, Saban Community Clinic, Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, and the National Cancer Institute.

Receiving a fellowship was instrumental in Saragosa-Harris’ ability to pursue a life working for others. “The Kayne Fellowship meant I could choose a job that best meets my passions and career goals, rather than one that merely meets my financial requirements,” she says. “Without funding, there is very little chance I would have had these experiences that are currently shaping my future.”