Community health student spends internship advocating for equitable health policies in D.C.

Community health student spends internship advocating for equitable health policies in D.C.

Cristina Garcia Toche is a senior majoring in Community Health with minors in Social Science and Spanish. She’s recently completed her 12-week community health internship in Washington D.C. as a congressional intern in the office of Senator Ron Wyden. Her ultimate career goal is to increase access to equitable, affordable and high-quality health resources for at-risk children and adolescents.

Path to community health

Cristina was raised in Hood River, Oregon by her two hard working parents who immigrated to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico. She’s the first of her siblings to pursue a college education.

Cristina first became insterested in community health when she participated in a healthy eating pilot program with her family.

“As part of the program, my family and I were required to attend weekly classes because my family was at risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. My parents’ eating behaviors began to change and our family began to connect more because we wanted to support each other.

This experience inspired me to pursue a career in community health education so I can help other families live a healthier lifestyle.”

Campus involvement

Cristina has been actively involved on campus since her freshman year.

“For the past three years, I have participated in the Oregon Students of Color Conference, which consists of a two-day workshop where we learn about racial injustices in education through ASWOU and MEChA Club.

By attending this conference, I was inspired to help establish the Unidos Club, a resource and support group for Undocumented and DACA recipients on campus that has been active since 2016.”

Cristina even uses her free time at Abby’s House and volunteering at Salem Free Clinics to translate Spanish-speaking patients with medical providers.

She also enjoys going home and playing with my roommate’s dogs, spending time with family in Hood River, going on runs after class, going on hikes, and going on spontaneous trips with friends.

Why WOU?

I came to WOU because I enjoyed the small-town feeling and wanted to feel comfortable approaching professors, advisors, and being involved in student-led clubs.

I am so grateful for the Student Enrichment Program and my advisor, Alicia Monrrory, who always made herself available and became a really good mentor.

First week of internship orientation for CHCI.
Cristina and sister at the MLK Jr. Memorial.
Outside the Supreme Court Hearing of DACA on November 12, 2019.

While participating in the National Student Exchange Program at the University of Massachusetts – Boston, Cristina studied Public Health from a sociological lens.

“In this experience, I learned how to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. This is where I was inspired to do research. When I got back to WOU, I worked with Dr. Megan Patton Lopez on food insecurity research. I really enjoyed meeting new people at UMB from all over the world and gaining new perspectives outside of Oregon.”

Community health internship with CHCI

Cristina learned about the internship program with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute from a former CHCI Alumni participant at OSU.

“I decided to apply because I really wanted to learn about the intersection between public policy and public health issues. I was hesitant about applying because I didn’t have a political background. I was thrilled when I got accepted.

The first week consisted of bonding with the other 23 undergraduate students, learning about the importance of being selected as candidates, leadership development, professional growth, and networking skills.

On a day-to-day basis as a Congressional Intern, I was responsible for listening to voicemails, sorting constituent mail, attending hearings and briefs, writing memorandums, doing capitol tours, and other legislative errands.

By attending hearings and briefs, I became interested in learning about child and adolescent health, particularly child welfare. And towards the end of my internship, I presented a policy memo about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the need to identify at-risk patients who have experienced adverse social conditions.”

Selfie with Civil Right Leader, Dolores Huerta, after the UsAgainstAlzheimers Conference.

Plans for the future

Having the opportunity to learn about child welfare has sparked Cristina’s interest in pursuing a professional career working towards advancing equity, using evidence-based data, and changing policy with at-risk children and adolescents.

“After graduation, I am planning to pursue a career as a Community Health Worker working towards increasing access to equitable, affordable and high-quality health resources in rural Oregon. My ideal job is to work for an organization that is working on advancing inequity, using evidence, and changing policy for at-risk children and adolescents.”

Advice for other students?

I advise other students to be involved on campus and join a cause that you are passionate about. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Network with classmates and build relationships with advisors and professors. Enjoy your time as an undergraduate student and use as many resources as you can! Take time for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally and enjoy the present.

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