Rebecca Chàvez graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Health Promotion and Health Behavior in Spring 2011. For the past three years, she’s worked for Polk County Public Health in Dallas, Oregon and started in her current role of outreach specialist in 2017.
Rebecca received the 2017 Emerging Leader award from the Oregon Public Health Association. The award is given annually to early career professionals who demonstrate leadership, innovation and creativity.
Among her early career successes are starting the Oregon Mothers Care Program at Polk County. In the first six months of the program, Rebecca has exceeded the state’s outreach and enrollment goals. She also initiated a condom access project, and now clients are able to access free condoms in three different locations throughout Polk county.
Rebecca also finds time to volunteer and mentor an at-risk high school student. She aspires to help youth of color succeed because she knows what it’s like to be a first-generation college student. We caught up with Rebecca to learn more about her time at Oregon State and in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
Synergies: How did being a student in the CPHHS prepare you for your current role?
Rebecca: “The classes that discussed health inequities and social determinants of health really helped. These types of classes usually involved doing projects outside the classroom. They put classroom lectures into perspective by providing hands-on activities. I definitely learned about the Corvallis community I lived in and what inequities exist.
“The senior internship was one of the most impactful classes that I took. I had to collaborate with a local agency and tailor my project to relate to the public health field. I assisted foster children who were exiting the system and going to live on their own. I developed a curriculum that helped teach young adults life and wellness skills to assist them in being healthy individuals.”
Synergies: Was there a piece of advice or a lesson learned while a student that you’ve taken with you?
Rebecca: “Dr. Raymond Tricker says that change is always possible. Whether it’s changing a person’s way of thinking to make healthier choices, changing public policy to create healthier communities, changing the way a system delivers services to make a healthy community or changing social/cultural norms regardless of push-back, change is always possible.
“It’s the little changes that add to the bigger, overall goal of health equity. Dr. Tricker also encouraged me to ‘think outside the box’ when it came to creating prevention strategies.”
Synergies: What do you like most about the transition from school to career?
Rebecca: “I enjoyed the ease of utilizing the hands-on skills I developed from my internship in my career and the practicality of applying material learned in the classroom to real-life situations in the field.”
Synergies: Did you receive a scholarship/fellowship or financial aid while a student at Oregon State?
Rebecca: “Yes, I was the recipient of the Ford Sons and Daughters scholarships, OSU diversity scholar, financial aid, work study and various local scholarships from North Bend, Oregon.”
Synergies: What advice do you have for current students of your program as they look for their first job out of college?
Rebecca: “Take advantage of getting to know your community and the inequities that exist in them. Take any opportunity to gain experience inside and outside of the classroom.
“Student organizations are a great way to get additional job skills. Also, when you go into the field after graduating, try to find a job that uses your interests. In public health, the possibilities are endless!”
Synergies: Any final words or thoughts about your time at Oregon State?
Rebecca: “I appreciated all the support faculty and student organizations provided me at Oregon State. As a student of color, it was hard being away from home. Throughout my five years, I was able to call it my second home.
“I leaned on my sorority sisters, peers and support system when I needed help or advice. Everyone was cheering to see me succeed in my endeavors. Oregon State is a great place to study public health and experience personal growth.”