With a strong determination to make a difference in the community, Damaris Aguirre is laying the groundwork for her career by earning an advanced degree.
“I want to help under-represented communities,” she said. “I am from the Hispanic community, and I noticed a lot of disparities that my family and I went through while I was growing up. We are still going through them. I continue to notice their impact on our lives.”
Aguirre is on track to graduate from the online Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Eastern Washington University (EWU) in December 2022. She also completed a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from EWU two years earlier.
“I started my undergrad in social work,” she said. “I switched to public health because I had more interest in helping the broader community, but I had some issues. I completed one year of the program but didn’t finish it.
“I switched majors to interdisciplinary studies. I got some public health experience in the classes I took the first year. That motivated me to enroll in the MPH program.”
While heading toward the finish line in the master’s degree program, Aguirre is completing an internship at Healthy House in Merced, California, a non-profit organization that addresses health equity and improves access to care.
“Right now, the online format is working great,” she said. “The professors provide lectures I watch in my free time, so I can be at my internship and go home and do my homework. This program is very flexible.”
The Path to Success
Aguirre is from Fresno, California, and completed her bachelor’s degree as an on-campus student in Cheney. She transitioned into the online master’s degree program shortly after completing the undergraduate degree.
“I was set on sticking with Eastern for the master’s degree,” she said. “I liked the environment and the inclusion it provided for students with different ethnicities and backgrounds. I also liked most of my professors.”
Contemporary Public Health Research Methods and Grant Writing was Aguirre’s favorite course in the online MPH program curriculum.
“It was one of the last courses I needed to finish the program,” she said. “I liked it because I experienced what it’s like to analyze data and evaluate what methods I would use to research my project.”
The information Aguirre is learning in the program is also helping with her work with Healthy House, which she began in August 2022. She must complete the internship to graduate.
“I can apply the knowledge I have gained in the program to my internship,” she said. “I am able to look at different stakeholders and organizations and non-profits reaching out to those underrepresented communities. I can also share what I have learned with others.”
Although she is still working toward completing the master’s program, Aguirre already sees how beneficial it will be to help reach her goals.
“Having the master’s degree will help open career opportunities for me,” she said. “I want to be a health education specialist, help different populations in the community or work for the health department in Fresno.”
Breaking the Mold
Earning a master’s degree is extra special for Aguirre, who walked the graduation stage in the summer ceremony in June 2022 because she had already completed the coursework in the program.
“It was really cool,” she said. “I got to see a lot of people at once and meet some classmates I had a connection with by doing discussion posts. It was the first time for me to see them face-to-face.
“My family and friends are excited for me. I am the first in my family to get a master’s degree.”
Aguirre, who enjoys skating and hanging out with her dog when she has free time, believes that zeroing in on the end goal is an important first step before enrolling in the online MPH program.
“Make sure that it’s something you want and that you can see yourself providing support for other people and helping the community,” she said. “It’s challenging but rewarding.”
For now, Aguirre is focusing on wrapping up the degree program and formulating a post-graduation plan for landing a full-time job in 2023.
“I am looking to work with a non-profit organization or the health department since I like what I am doing with the internship,” she said. “Now that I am almost done with the master’s degree, I know I got everything I wanted out of the program.”
Learn more about EWU’s online Master of Public Health program.