Meet Our Alums - Joy Leos - "Public Health is All About Service"
What sparked your interest in the Public Health program at UTEP? What do you believe are the unique strengths of this program that set it apart from others nationally?
I started on a different path at UTEP initially. Once I figured out that path was not a naturally good fit for me, I spoke with my academic advisor. She mentioned the Public Health program at UTEP, as it was similar but more community-based than my initial choice. I started the program and very quickly realized I was in the right place. Working with the community resonated with me and made me feel like I finally found where I belonged. I think what I love most about UTEP’s program is the variety within the curriculum. You get a taste of each part of the vast public health system. It makes it digestible and easy to understand. I think what sets the program apart is that you have many faculty members who understand the community and have a vested interest in its health and in building strong, well-rounded public health professionals.
Tell us about the most interesting experience you had while in the program.
I think what I learned most was perseverance. Some of the courses were challenging, and my instructors pushed me. At the moment, it was a challenge, but looking back on my experience, I am so beyond grateful because it showed me that I could overcome any challenge with planning, careful thought, and perseverance. My first presentation as a professional working in the community, where the roles were reversed and one of my instructors was in the audience as I was at the podium, stands out. It was very surreal. The program exposed me to so many different and unique populations in our community. It made me realize my privilege, and it made me want to help others.
Tell us about your current work with the City of El Paso. What are some of the skills you learned as a student that you incorporate into your work there?
I am the Health Training & Promotions Manager and the 2-1-1 Rio Grande Area Information Center Region Director. There are so many skills that I learned on this journey. Teamwork is crucial to public health work. The very core of our work revolves around relationships – with clients, coworkers, community-based organizations, and more. Learning how to build rapport and trust is so important. Perseverance is another skill that has translated well in the public health field. Public health issues are not, for the most part, easy to solve. It takes a lot of work and thinking out of the box, and you have to be willing to learn when things don’t work the way you want them to. Flexibility and adaptability are two of the last skills I will mention. Public health is never linear; it is a roller coaster. As a professional, you have to be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice if something changes to adjust your response. As we have seen with COVID-19, sometimes we aren’t sure what is around the corner, so as a professional, you have to be as ready as you can to adjust your work to ensure it meets the community’s needs and addresses the emerging health crisis.
What are your professional goals in the next five to ten years?
I am blessed to be able to work in a field that I love. There has been so much change in the last two years that I am encouraged and excited to be part of the evolution of our public health system. We have started to see funding that allows us to grow our services in the community like never before. I want to continue bringing as many services as possible to our community that will allow us all to lead healthier lifestyles and decrease the burden of chronic disease. I want to continue training and growing new public health professionals who have a heart of service for this community and a passion-driven focus to work on health disparities in our community.
What would you tell a prospective student who is interested in the Public Health program?
I would tell them that public health is all about service. If you sincerely want to help the community, impact change, and have a job that takes you on an adventure, then the Public Health field is a great option to explore. There is so much work done that most people aren’t aware of, whether it is community education, disease surveillance, prevention work, case management, clinical outreach, connection to resources, and so much more. Public health is a critical player in every aspect of whole communities. Public health professionals influence policy change and behavior change, protect the community from public health threats, prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and work hard every day. Public Health students have the world at their feet, and the timing could not be better for them to join one of the hardest working teams in the nation.
What is the most important piece of advice that you would give to yourself as an entering freshman if you could go back in time?
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that I don’t have to have everything figured out immediately and that there is still a lot of self-discovery that needs to happen to find the right program for me, not what others were telling me was my path. I would tell myself the journey will be challenging, and there will be days when you want to throw in the towel but need to keep going. I would tell myself that every decision I make could affect my trajectory.
Education is about learning, yes, but it is also a test of your perseverance and will. Do not let anything get in the way of being able to savor that walk across the stage, because you are so worth it. Let these small steps be your building blocks to becoming the person you were intended to be. Never be afraid to let your talents shine, and be you. It will open doors for you that you never knew were possible.
For more information about the Bachelor of Public Health Program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/phs/academic-programs/undergraduate/index.html
Photo courtesy of University Communications