Exploring the diverse roots of the 2017-18 Master's Fellowship winners

The UW School of Public Health remains committed to building a more diverse and welcoming institution. To that end, six master’s fellowships were awarded this academic year by the School to promising scholars from diverse backgrounds. Each of these outstanding students receives $20,000 over two years.

Alexa Juarez, Master of Public Health, Global Health

 photo
Alexa Juarez

Alexa Juarez, from Dallas, was just a child when she volunteered with her father at a small nutrition center and orphanage in Honduras. However, the experience stuck with her. She saw firsthand how communities had limited access to quality health care and how people struggled to recover after a devastating hurricane, and she wanted to build tools to change that.

Later, as an undergraduate at Rice University, Juarez studied twice as hard to stand out as a minority woman in a rigorous and male-dominated engineering program. Thanks to great mentorship and sheer drive, she graduated at the top of her class and went on to develop low-cost treatment and diagnostic technologies for women in Malawi and El Salvador. This work, coupled with her childhood experiences, motivated Juarez to pursue a master’s in global health through the UW School of Public Health.

Francisco Rios Casas, Master of Science, Epidemiology

Francisco-Rios-Casas photo
Francisco Rios Casas

Francisco Rios Casas, a first-generation student from Los Angeles, is passionate about doing research to address health disparities among immigrants, ethnic minorities and low-income families. As an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, Rios Casas joined the McNair Scholars Program – a federal initiative designed to prepare undergraduates for doctoral studies – where he conducted research on the links between demographic changes in Southern California and environmental health risks.

School didn’t always come easy for Rios Casas, however. His family’s financial instability and confusion about the higher education system often affected him academically and personally. With support from his mother, who always emphasized the importance of a good education, and from funding sources such as the Master’s Fellowship, Rios Casas is excited to pursue his research passions as a master’s student in epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health.

Imashi Fernando, Master of Science, Nutritional Sciences Program/Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics

Imashi Fernando photo
Imashi Fernando

Imashi Fernando moved from Sri Lanka to the United States in 2013 to pursue a bachelor’s in nutrition and dietetics at Montana State University. She had never heard of Montana before, but she quickly grew comfortable with her studies and social life. As a member and then president of the Sri Lankan Students’ Association, Fernando promoted cultural awareness and diversity on her college campus. Among the many activities she planned was an International Street Food Bazaar, which brought together students from more than 30 countries to share their cuisines with the community. Fernando also supported survivors of interpersonal violence as a victim’s advocate and interned for a local public health department.

A first-generation student, Fernando is interested in maternal and child health nutrition. She’s particularly driven to identify ways to eliminate the challenges that mothers and children from certain socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds face in getting adequate nutrition. As a master’s student in the Nutritional Sciences Program, she’s hopeful that one day she’ll bring positive change to current and emerging public health nutrition concerns.

Nicole Loroña, Master of Science, Epidemiology

Nicole Lorona photo
Nicole Loroña

Nicole Loroña was among a group of public health students from the University of Arizona (UA) to receive White House honors in 2017 for her work to educate and enroll fellow students and community members in health insurance coverage. The group took part in the Healthy Campus Challenge, an Obama-era effort to reach uninsured Americans, particularly young adults. A certified application navigator, Loroña focused on enrolling hard-to-reach individuals living in rural and underserved communities.

A first-generation Latina student, Loroña is passionate about mentoring underrepresented students as both a graduate student and future researcher. She believes that diversity in the field of public health will lead to innovative ideas and new ways of approaching problems. As a young investigator, Loroña conducted studies aimed at improving binational health in communities throughout the Arizona-Mexico border region. Now, a master’s student in epidemiology at the UW School of Public Health, she wants to strengthen her research skills, while alleviating Latino health disparities for women and children.

Sonni Tadlock, Master of Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

Sonni Tadlock photo
Sonni Tadlock

Sonni Tadlock gave a speech last spring in front of hundreds of people as part of the Bellingham March for Science. During the event, she touted the importance of indigenous knowledge systems and ways of knowing to advance scientific methodologies and analysis. Tadlock had just completed her bachelor’s in native environmental science at Northwest Indian College on the Lummi Indian Reservation, where her studies focused on the nexus between indigenous food systems and community health. Over the years, Tadlock has delivered more than 15 research presentations, which have earned her several awards and accolades. 

A direct descendant of the Okanogan band of the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Tadlock feels a responsibility to support minority communities like her own. She helped to develop an environmental health curriculum with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community – based on their traditional 13 lunar cycle calendar – to teach youth and the community about living seasonally. She also worked with indigenous communities and tribal colleges and universities to facilitate community engagement with science. As a Native scholar and master’s student at the UW School of Public Health, Tadlock is driven to find ways to incorporate her culture into her education and research.

Hani Mohamed, Master of Health Informatics and Health Information Management, Health Services

 photo
Hani Mohamed

Hani Mohamed grew up with a passion for public health and health equity, and a belief that health is human right. This was instilled in her at an early age by her mother, a community health worker addressing the social determinants of health in her community. Mohamed was born in a Somali refugee camp in Kenya and moved to San Diego when she was five. Attending a charter school 45 minutes away from her home, Mohamed struggled to find her place in a predominantly white environment. This inspired her to advocate for equity, inclusion and intersectionality in all elements of life.

A first-generation student, Mohamed graduated from the Public Health Major in 2015. As an undergrad, she helped to implement culturally sensitive trainings to ensure Somali populations could navigate emergency medical services. Later, she became a patient navigator at HealthPoint Community Health Center, where she empowered patients to become advocates in achieving their health goals. Now she coordinates efforts for the Healthier Washington Initiative.

A master’s student at the UW School of Public Health, Mohamed looks forward to being the first in her family to receive a graduate degree and to continuing her work to create more equitable and healthier communities. Her life goal is to inspire and redefine the world view of other people like her: black women, Muslims and refugees.