Public health majors explore career options and policymaking at annual conference


Photo courtesy of Walter Zelman

Attendees of the conference pose in front of the State Capitol. Photo courtesy of Walter Zelman.

In April, 20 Cal State LA students from the Department of Public Health attended the tenth annual 2023 California State University (CSU) Health Policy Conference in Sacramento.

During their trip, students met health advisors, legislators, lobbyists and assembly members. They toured the State Capitol, attended panels, did group activities and explored career options in the field of public health.

Annually, students from different public health departments throughout the CSU system come to the three-day-conference.

Public health major Daisy Amescua said the conference “was a rewarding experience that broadened my knowledge of healthcare policy making, government, and politics and exposed me to potential career paths in public health advocacy.”

Amescua said visiting the State Capitol was an accomplishment for her, and that she never imagined she would get to sit in the Capitol’s legislator meeting room.

According to Dr. Walter Zelman, the Chair of the Department of Public Health, students do not pay anything to attend the conference.

However, students must enroll in a health policy class in order to attend, such as Dr. Gregory Steven’s course titled “Critical Issues: Health Policy.”

Over the last two years, they have received funding for the trip from grants through the California Department of Public Health.

Zelman said some of the students who attended the conferences went on to get jobs and internships with the California Department of Public Health.

This year, they met with Governor Gavin Newsom’s health advisor, Richard Figuero and Assembly Member Jim Wood, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. They attended a panel with officials from the California Department of Public Health and went to a panel interview.

Instead of giving speeches, speakers were given a list of questions to answer so that Zelman could interrupt to ask questions and give people time to understand what they were talking about.

“The students were really struck by the decency of the people they met and what they’re trying to do. Whether they be liberal or conservative, they’re trying to do the right thing,” Zelman said “They come away more positive towards policy making in government.”

He said that seeing policymaking firsthand is a great way for students to learn how to get involved in the government, change-making and policy-making.

Among the assembly members present at the conference was Cal State LA alum Wendy Carrillo, who was a source of inspiration for multiple students who met her. Carrillo represents the 52nd Assembly District of California.

“She’s trying to set an example for her family and other girls who look like her and who have similar upbringings,” Joed Garbo said. “That it’s possible for us to be in spaces that we’re usually not allowed in, specifically in the U.S. government.”

She said they discussed “real world problems” that affect minority communities such as the importance of mental health, access to clean water, infant and maternal mortality rates and food insecurity.

“It used to seem like a very distant opportunity for…people of color and minorities, but seeing people who looked like me in spaces of power, I feel like now I view it as something possible,” Garbo added.