Name: Miryam Catherine Granthon-Gerdine
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
CHCI Program(s)/Year: 1996-1997 Edward Roybal Public Health Fellow
CHCI Program Placement(s): Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office of Public Health and Science, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Current Position: Legislative Analyst, Office of Legislation, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
1. Many CHCI alumni and current program participants have battled and continue to battle common challenges as they strive to become Latino leaders in their communities: living and working in low-income communities, some in single-parent households, as recent immigrants, DREAMERS, or first-generation American citizens. What challenges did you have to face to get to where you are today?
Con mucho orgullo, I would like to share that I am a first generation college graduate in my familia. As you can imagine, there were tremendous hurdles to overcome, such as understanding the importance of SATs, learning about colleges, financial aid, scholarships, and finding the self confidence that I belong and could succeed in college.
Gracias to the help of a great high school counselor, I applied to a pre-college program, “Hispanics for Academic Progress” at Penn State University, (PSU). It was a full-ride scholarship for low-income, first generation, high school students to be on a college campus for a summer and learn about the day to day experiences of being a college student. By the end of that summer, I had earned credits for two college classes, had the wonderful opportunity to read, “Bless Me Ultima,” and gained the confidence that I could succeed at a big university. I highly encourage ALL high school students to look into pre-college programs.
While a student at PSU, I found great college counselors at the Multicultural Resource Center who helped me become a work study statistics tutor; apply and receive the Hispanic Scholarship Fund; support my nomination for the Truman Scholars Program; and apply to later receive a study abroad scholarship to the “The Western Transition Economy Program” in Oxford, England. This was my first time, since my family and I emigrated from Peru, that I was outside the United States. I also highly encourage ALL students to do a study abroad.
As I mentioned before, yes, I had hurdles, but I sought out others, mentors to help me with those hurdles. I know it’s hard to ask for help. It’s still not easy for me, but as one of my mentors recently shared with a few of us; “Together we can move mountains!” I think that’s one of the reasons a few of us also started the CHCI Alumni Association, because we see the need and value of serving as peer resources to each other.
2. What motivated you to apply to the CHCI program(s), and why do you think they are important for Latino youth?
I was completing my Masters in Social Work (MSW) at Boston University, and one of two Latinas in my class when I learned about the CHCI programs through one of my social welfare policy professors. I was very excited to learn about such a program that brought together a diverse group of young Latinos from across the U.S. to support and develop their leadership skills. From experience, I know it can be difficult being one of a few Latinos at your university, so that’s what motivated me to apply to CHCI. I applied to CHCI, for the opportunity to be part of a larger Latino community and to come to Washington DC to learn about Congressional leadership.
My observation is that there are many Latino youth who are first generation college students and are sometimes limited by their exposures. So from my lens CHCI, is a very comfortable, trusted setting that allows young Latinos to be exposed to many, diverse opportunities; so that their dreams are without borders. I recently heard an insightful and simple truth, “It’s hard to imagine what you can’t see.” I strongly believe that the CHCI programs are the eye glasses that many of us need to SEE and experience a range of leadership opportunities both in our home towns and in the Washington DC area. When I was a Fellow, I had the tremendous experience to meet and ask questions of a Latina heading the Small Business Administration and a Latino heading Housing and Urban Development. Gracias to CHCI, I witnessed Latino leadership in federal government and it made me feel that I also belonged in the federal government.
3. What have you been doing since you finished the CHCI program(s)?
CHCI was my foot in the door to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and this September, I will celebrate 18 years working at HHS. My first assignment was working on the Healthy People 2000 Progress review on Hispanic Americans.
Working closely with the National Center for Health Statistics, I quickly learned about the availability of public data and the data limitations for Latino subgroups. My 8 years working on the Healthy People Initiative has provided a strong foundation on the importance of quality and publically available data to make both sound and data driven program and policy decisions.
In 2005, with the leadership and support of another mentor, I moved to the Office of Minority Health (OMH), within the Office of the Secretary (OS) to work on the new Health Information Technology portfolio. Staffing the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health, I designed, coordinated and implemented more than 20 health information technology projects focused on underserved populations including those targeted to racial/ethnic and Limited English Proficient (LEP) community members; including managing the National Health Information Technology Collaborative for the Underserved, being implemented by OMH grantee SHIRE.
In 2010, I was recruited to join the Office of Health Information Technology and Quality (OHITQ) at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). One of my responsibilities, included serving as the HRSA Government Task Lead on the congressionally mandated report “Understanding the Impact of Health Information Technology in Underserved Communities and those with Health Disparities .”
And in February 2013, I joined the HRSA Office of Legislation, where I am the liaison to the Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW). Working closely with BHW leadership, and upon members of congress and their staffs’ requests, I prepare Technical Assistance on proposed legislation, staff Briefings and Hearings. I have successfully staffed two health workforce hearings; April 23, 2013 “Successful Primary Care Programs: Creating the Workforce We Need,” and April 9, 2014 “Addressing Primary Care Access and Workforce Challenges: Voices from the Field,” both for the Senate HELP, Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions, Subcommittee Primary Health and Aging Hearing.
4. What impact did your CHCI experience have on your career and development as a leader?
The CHCI experience was a career changer and a transformative experience for me. Gracias to CHCI, my budding social work career was broadened into a public health career in the Federal Government, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This September, I celebrate 18 years of working at HHS. In those years, some of my contributions have been to share my unique lens to decisions in more than 30 competitive grant reviews, contracts and cooperative agreement review panels and to chair 11 panel reviews; including the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking Regional Program grants; the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH), Pregnant and Parenting Teen and Women grants; the Office of Minority Health (OMH), Youth Empowerment Demonstration grants; and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Scholarship program.
Through the CHCI Friday leadership development seminars, and along with my cohort; I had the unique opportunity to be in small, private meetings with Latino Political leaders, such as those heading the Small Business Administration, the Housing and Urban Development, and the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Gracias to CHCI, I heard their personal stories of how they came to their leadership positions and they made me feel that a career in public service was also for me. CHCI’s investment in my leadership development gave me confidence so at the end of my Fellowship, I was ready to accept a position at HHS. And my continued relationship with CHCI, continues to give me confidence as a leader at HHS and I feel tremendous orgullo, as I now see some of my cohort and other CHCI alumni in these political leadership positions.
5. How do you continue to give back to the community?
Feeling very blessed to have amazing mentors in my career, that’s how I try, my best to give back to our community by mentoring. I try to encourage young adults to learn about the different types of careers in health and the government. This past summer, I was honored to be invited to talk to the incoming CHCI Interns. I joined a panel of CHCI Alumni, where I shared my personal journey as a public servant working in the government. Also, through the Government Leaders 4 Tomorrow (GL4T); I was matched with a Latino High School student (U.S. born and familia from El Salvador) and I’ve tried to expose him to various Latino health leaders. He recently joined (shadowed) me at the Hispanic Serving Health Professions Schools (HSHPS) Data Workshop, where he met many different Latino health leaders at the National Institutes of Health. He is now finishing his four-week participation in GL4T, and I asked him what was one of his most surprising experiences and he shared how big and how many different buildings make up HHS. I smiled and responded, yes that means there’s lots of work to be done and he will have lots of choices from public health policy to conducting clinical trials.
Quality mentoring is critical to our Latino community. Mentoring helps prepare and retain the next generation of leaders; it helps develop new leaders; and it promotes diversity. As a mentor, it has also helped me to improve my leadership and managerial skills. This past Spring, I was very honored to be recognized by the Association of Women in Science, Bethesda Chapter with their annual Award for Excellence in Mentoring.
6. Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years, and what do you still want to achieve?
I continue to see myself at HHS for the next 5-10 years, continuing my contributions to the mission of HRSA, to improve health and achieve health equity through access to quality services, a skilled health workforce and innovative programs. But after 10-12 years, I hope to be transitioning to academia and more independent research. My most recent work portfolio has been focused on strengthening the health workforce for the future, developing and supporting the Health Information Technology and Behavioral Health workforce. I look forward to future challenges of having my own classroom (physical and virtual) and shaping the academic training of the future health workforce.
7. What advice would you give current and future CHCI participants?
Don’t ever forget you are resilient and please stay connected to the CHCI familia. This is just my story, but you have a story too and so does everyone in your cohort. We all have hurdles, we have overcome. We learn from each one of our experiences both successes and also the challenges of losses. Also, with this great power of being part of the CHCI familia comes great responsibility. This is our gift, our curse. Who are we? We are the CHCI familia, leaders for our Latino communities.