Editor’s Note: This is the story of a graduate of the 2016 Èxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program. Apply now for 2017 by March 6.

Nopales are strong, resilient plants that endure in any environment.

The same characteristics apply to Karen Aguirre.

Aguirre learned perseverance from her parents who crossed over from Mexico nearly a dozen times to bring her to a better life, and from her mentor who cared for undocumented Latinos.

karen aguirre exito latino trainingShe has vowed to fight for the oppressed and engage Latinos in health policy.

Aguirre, an MPH candidate in Health Policy and Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recently was awarded the Chicago Schweitzer Fellowship and will receive funding to carry out a yearlong project with Latino high school students in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.

The program is expected to become a pipeline system between an underserved community and neighboring universities in Chicago.

To further her training, Chavez applied for the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program, which recruits 25 master’s-level students and professionals for a five-day Summer Institute to promote doctoral degrees and careers studying Latino cancer. Éxito! is led by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez at UT Health San Antonio, with support from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Because of the program, Aguirre is confident she will pursue a PhD in Medical Sociology and is looking forward to applying to health policy fellowships in Capitol Hill.

“[Éxito!] was an amazing experience and by the end I felt completely encouraged to pursue a PhD,” Aguirre said. “If it wasn’t for this program I probably would’ve considered stopping at my master’s degree.”

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