Public health graduates pave the way for a healthier Hawai‘i

Three public health students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health who have showcased excellence, and are poised for a promising and impactful future ahead, will be among those in the fall 2023 graduating class.

“We have a lot of work to do in public health making our communities healthier and more resilient, but with graduates like Emelie, Alex and Breena, the future for a healthier tomorrow is so much brighter,” said Office of Public Health StudiesDirector Eric Hurwitz.

Emelie Jayne Ogata-Tambua

Emelie Jayne Ogata-Tambua is a proud first-generation college student, and will earn her BA in public health. She originally pursued a degree in dental hygiene, until she discovered the field of public health and the power it holds in affecting community change. 

“When I came to realize that public health has the super power to help not just one person at a time, but a whole community, I knew this is where I was destined to be,” said Ogata-Tambua. 

Ogata-Tambua’s capstone project focused on how a collective effort of community members can support families who are caring for a child with cancer. She interned with the organization Help, Understanding & Group Support (HUGS), whose mission is to support families in crisis. Being a HUGS sibling herself, Ogata-Tambua developed a strong personal connection to the program. She experienced her own sibling’s cancer journey and benefited from HUGS‘ support, and felt a profound understanding of how she could contribute to helping other families in similar situations.

Upon graduation, Ogata-Tambua plans to work full-time at Ke Ola Mamo, Oʻahu’s Native Hawaiian health system, applying the skills and knowledge gained in the public health program to make a positive impact on communities in Hawaiʻi. Her immediate goal is to gain full-time experience, with plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health in the future.

Alex Cadavona

From witnessing first-hand loved ones struggling through the inequities of the healthcare system, Alex Cadavona was motivated to contribute to the improvement of health in his community. Initially, he thought he had to become a medical doctor, until he was introduced to public health. 

“I learned about the concept of public health, which particularly motivated me because I realized it was a way to help more than one person at a time, compared to being a medical doctor or nurse,” said Cadavona, who will earn his BA in public health.

Cadavona began his public health journey at Leeward Community College and began working as a caregiver at a healthcare center in his hometown of Kalihi. He joined the public health program at UH Mānoa in 2020. Cadavona’s capstone explored the critical workforce shortage in the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services program, and he did his field experience at the HawaiʻiDepartment of Health (DOH), which deepened his understanding of bureaucratic operations and collaborative cultures.

Cadavona’s passion lies in addressing urgent public health issues at both local and global levels. To accomplish this, he applied to the urban and regional planning master’s program at UH Mānoa. In his graduate studies, he hopes to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between the public health and urban and regional planning disciplines. Cadavona aims to implement realistic and enduring solutions to issues within and beyond the scope of public health, emphasizing urgency aligned with the existential priorities of the public.

Breena Gaskov

Breena Gaskov was introduced to public health while in high school when a visit from an epidemiologist left her with a lasting impression. Gaskov found her passion for public health during the COVID-19 pandemic while working at the Alaska State Public Health Laboratories after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in biology from Marian University Wisconsin. 

Working primarily on the COVID-19 response team, witnessing the ethnic and geographic inequities in healthcare, she decided to pursue a master of public health (MPH) in epidemiology at UH Mānoa. 

“My understanding of public health concepts has deepened so much during my MPH experience. Even the non-epidemiology classes, though challenging for me, have made such a profound impact on my overall development as a public health professional,” Gaskov expressed. “I used to look at my future life as a public health professional and think ‘how can we reduce STIs?’, but now I think of it as ‘how can we improve sexual health?’”

For her practicum, Gaskov worked with the Hawaiʻi DOH Harm Reduction Services Branch at the Diamond Head Health Center’s STI/HIV Clinic. This hands-on experience fueled her excitement for the field. Her capstone project, which focused on chlamydia and gonorrhea prevalence by Oʻahu neighborhood, expanded on her practicum research, helping pave the way for future research in sexual health on Oʻahu. 

Upon graduation, Gaskov plans to continue her work with the Hawaiʻi DOH Harm Reduction Services Branch as an outreach epidemiological specialist. She aspires to pursue a PhD in epidemiology, aiming to become a professor and make a lasting impact in STI research and public health.

Story originally posted at UH News

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