Undergraduate LEAP Scholar Highlight: Gabriel and Kennedy

November 16, 2022

As the semester comes to an end, we are highlighting two of our Advanced LEAP Scholars who are graduating in December 2022: Gabriel Sumayan Garcia and Kennedy Schaffer! They have been an integral part of our first cohort of Advanced LEAP Scholars at Berkeley Public Health, and we are excited to see their growth beyond Berkeley.  Read below to learn more about their experience in the MCAH LEAP Training Program.

image of student and quote about experienceimage of student and quote about experience

Images created by Grace Rajan, MCAH LEAP Peer Ambassador 2022-23

Gabriel Sumayan Garcia (they/them)

Majors: Public Health and Anthropology 

Gabriel Sumayan Garcia is a graduating senior who joined the MCAH LEAP program in Fall 2021. Their commitment to public health and their greater community stems from their personal history which is shaped by the strength of the Filipino immigrant experience. Growing up, they witnessed firsthand the mental health impacts of transgenerational trauma on the family, which is often perpetuated by the relationship between labor and mental health. Their journey within public health has centered addressing these adverse health outcomes, as they continue to focus on building more resilient families through intersectional interventions.

As an Advanced LEAP Scholar, Gabriel has been an integral part of a “supporting and welcoming” cohort, which has helped them to foster community within MCAH. Through the Introduction to MCAH course, they have been able to develop a comprehensive understanding of areas of interest, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the life course perspective. This understanding is realized in the work they do within their community. As a part of their LEAP summer Internship, Gabriel helped develop programming for Asian Health Service’s Leaders in Training x Bridging Generations, by leading cohorts of high school students in discussion and activities focused on addressing structural inequities. Bridging Generations provided a unique opportunity, a grounding full-circle moment for them to give back to the youth of the community they come from as a mentor for Asian and Black youth in Chinatown, covering topics spanning incarceration to structural racism. They worked extensively to develop an enriching program for their cohort, supplemented by museum visits and guest speakers to provide background and bridge intergenerational gaps for students dealing with systems of oppression. Addressing health inequities carries over to Gabriel’s research fellowship with Birth By Us, as they work with current MCAH graduate student, Ijeoma Uche (expected MPH ‘23), to combat adverse Black maternal health outcomes with technological solutions, through an application catered to the unique needs of the community. Quality of sleep and mental health are fundamental elements of maternal health that the application caters to. 

Gabriel is continuing their journey in public health and hopes to take their experiences with them as they navigate the next steps in their career.

“This program really sets you up to be an intentional and aware individual when working within the field. All the resources, experiences, and spending time with people who have similar experiences as me has really informed how I will navigate my career, navigate through life, and navigate public health.”

Their dedication to addressing transgenerational trauma continues as Gabriel works towards bettering health outcomes in immigrant populations through a career in family medicine.

Kennedy Schaffer (she/her)

Major: Public Health
Minor: Disability Studies

Kennedy Shaffer is a graduating senior majoring in public health and minoring in disability studies. Going into public health was a natural decision for Kennedy, she grew up in a multigenerational family in a multicultural community where adverse health outcomes were normalized. There were many systems at play all working in tandem to access to quality care and access to a better quality of life. Women in the community were disproportionately impacted by environmental stressors and had to pick up the pieces for their families and others around them. These experiences inform and embolden her passion for reproductive justice and advocacy for maternal populations of color, as she works to ensure better health outcomes for those who are often overlooked. 

This passion for serving her community serves as a valuable addition to the MCAH LEAP cohort and informs the wealth of experience she has within the MCAH field.

“I have been able to see a lot of aspects of public health I would have never been able to see. I have been able to see both the  public health, research, and clinical sides. The different ways public health can manifest in the community. LEAP connected me with diverse teams. It was a really powerful experience seeing women of color encouraging you to be the next leader. It is a whole different ball game that is more collaborative and uplifting.”

During the summer, Kennedy held multiple positions focusing on the clinical side of public health.  Her experience shadowing surgeons at UCSF put into perspective how medical teams administer care for different patients, which often varies due to implicit and explicit biases in medicine. Her work in labor and delivery put into perspective what she had learned in the MCAH introduction course which focused on understanding how to develop interventions that center the life course and take an intersectional approach to addressing issues in healthcare. Public health is a dynamic field that requires adaptive and innovative approaches to some of the most pressing issues. This is especially true with new and emerging responses to COVID-19, which she was also involved with at UCSF’s Gaw Lab. She performed research on the COVID-19 vaccines efficacy and how it may change during different trimesters throughout pregnancy. Her dedication to MCAH populations continues now, as she works with the Abundant Birth Project Evaluation Study to develop interventions addressing social determinants that contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Kennedy's commitment to addressing social determinants within her practice remains strong as she hopes to continue her work within MCAH. She also hopes to eventually become a doctor and pursue an MPH, to further serve communities like her own and work towards a more equitable and just future for families of color.