Alicia Zelaya says she was drawn to a major in public health pretty much as soon as she discovered it was an option. But it still took a few out-of-classroom experiences for it to grow into the personal passion it is today.
She credits her time at Joy-Southfield Community Development Corporation for laying the ground for much of that transformation. Zelaya spent two years as both a volunteer and intern with the nonprofit, which takes a unique public health-centered approach to revitalizing its namesake Detroit neighborhood. There, she was deeply involved in several programs, including the local farmer’s market and the group’s nutrition and wellness classes — both of which allowed her to witness the direct, daily impact she was having on residents.
“Being out in the community and seeing people's faces light up reinforced the work that I do,” Zelaya said. “I want to see real, healthy improvements in people’s lives. And that experience made me realize how much I love working to assist underserved populations.”
It can be challenging work. But Zelaya isn’t one to turn away from tough topics. Another one of her many accomplishments at UM-Dearborn: serving as vice president of the student Public Health Society, where she organized events on suicide prevention and student mental health.
Fresh off a December 2018 graduation, Zelaya now is continuing her public health journey as a public health educator. And her ultimate dream: working as a dietician, where she plans to tackle issues like children’s nutrition and food-related illnesses in under-resourced communities.