Jessica Otero

Jessica Otero

What was your background before enrolling in the MPH program?

I attended the University of Florida (Go Gators) and received a Bachelor of Science in Health Education and Behavior. I then took two years off to use my degree as a health education specialist! During this time, I was first a research coordinator for a study that utilized behavioral economics strategies to dissuade marijuana use in truant youth. When the COVID-19 pandemic started I then became a health educator for cancer disparities in Black and Latino men, which led to my role as a coordinator for the NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities at UF’s CaRE2 Health Equity Center and then at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Health Equity and Community Engagement Research.

Can you tell us about your position as a Graduate Assistant for the Bloomberg Global Mayors Challenge?

The Bloomberg Global Mayors Challenge is an initiative that pairs 50 cities with experts to refine innovative ideas for the chance of receiving funding. As a graduate assistant with the City of Durham for this challenge, I worked with an incredible team to develop ways to connect community members to needed resources. Our strategy was to use WhatsApp as a tool where peer navigators could ask questions on how to access resources. We tested the usefulness of this tool with focus groups, interviews, and surveys. We then used these results to refine the use of WhatsApp for this purpose and submitted our final application with the hopes that we would be selected as one of the 15 cities that receive funding!

Can you tell us more about your clinical research experience with Mayo Clinic?

As an assistant clinical research coordinator at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Health Equity and Community Engagement Research, I coordinated our Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 efforts. I did not do too much clinical work, but rather got to partner with communities to disseminate accurate health information with the hopes of reducing COVID misinformation and ultimately COVID inequities in communities of color. This role allowed me to deepen relationships with the community, by attending different community events, such as food drives, community festivals, and cultural celebrations. As a member of the Latino community, I loved being able to connect with others in my language and empathize with their concerns about COVID/ the vaccine, while also sharing information that may ease their concerns. One of my favorite experiences through this role, was planning and moderating a panel on Addressing COVID Disparities in Communities of Color which included Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Jessica Malaty Rivera, Dr. Folakemi Odedina, Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo, and Dr. Cynthia Harris. Ultimately, however, my favorite part of this role was the honor of having a relationship and trust with community members, rather than the disconnected relationship that many have experienced with research and public health.

What does “global health” mean to you?

Global health has a unique meaning for me since I was not born in the US and have had various international experiences. I think that when we try to identify health it can be easy to have a gold standard for what that might look like, while failing to realize the different standards, cultural practices, and experiences that influence the meaning of health for others. If I had to simply explain global health, I would say that it emphasizes the ability of different people groups globally to experience an optimal quality of life, including optimal mental, physical, and social health, with access to necessary resources to not just maintain health but to thrive in life.

What drew you to the Gillings School of Global Public Health?

I applied to the Gillings School of Global Public Health because of its role as a leader in Public Health. However, I chose to attend Gillings because of the faculty I met while learning more about the school. I was not familiar with how to navigate higher education in the United States and emailed various faculty members at the Public Health programs that I had been accepted at. Out of all those I emailed, those at UNC were the kindest and most committed to helping me navigate graduate school and opportunities.

What is your dream job?

My dream job would be to have a research organization that partners with Latino and immigrant communities to find innovative solutions to barriers in experiencing an optimal quality of life. This organization would also advocate for systemic and structural change to reduce those barriers. It would also include a mentorship, education, and promotoras de salud component. It would also allow for transnational work that addresses health inequities in my home country Colombia.

In your opinion, what is something everyone should try at least once?

Aside from traveling and experiencing other cultures, I think everyone should [safely] try something that terrifies them at least once in their life. Whether it is an opportunity, an adventure, an experience, or anything else that seems slightly terrifying but incredibly exciting, I think we learn so much about ourselves and how strong we are when we do these things.

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