Every summer, the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center welcomes a new cohort of public health students: the Project AHEAD interns. Project AHEAD (Asian Health Education and Development) is a summer internship program designed to provide mentorship and training to college students interested in pursuing a career in healthcare. Established by the Health Center in 1975, the program is centered on helping young students understand the historical and current issues impacting the health of Asian American populations and create a community-based project to address the needs.
Meet this year’s cohort who comes with unique interests in exploring mental health, LGBTQ health, access to health care, pediatrics, nutrition, reproductive health, and treatment for cancer:
Rising junior at Tufts University | Majors in Biology
Alan Chen was initially set on becoming a doctor. After taking courses that discussed the humanities, political, and advocacy side of medicine, however, he reassessed and wanted to have an impact on not just an individual but in the broader community. One public health issue he would like to tackle is LGBTQ health in Asian American populations. “I think it’s important not to forget about the most vulnerable. I believe LGBTQ youth are the most vulnerable population in the Asian American community because of the stigma revolving around it. In a lot of communities, it’s considered a mental illness. It’s important to address that and give them visibility and a voice,” says Alan.
Rising junior at Tufts University | Double majors in Biology and English
Emily Chu has interests working in the field of reproductive health to empower people about their sexual health. “There’s a lot of stigma around taking ownership of your sexual health and feeling comfortable addressing it.” She is working to change that narrative so individuals can feel more welcomed and not be judged. Emily is also passionate about connecting medicine with social activism, such as exploring the intersection reproductive health has with the LGBTQ community and feminism.
Rising junior at Stony Brook University | Majors in Biology
Veronica Kuang wants to become a physician assistant or nurse practitioner to help the community. She is also interested in learning about nutrition, genetics, and the nuances of cultural diets because two of her family members are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. “Most Chinese families eat white rice, but in the American society, people would say white rice is not as healthy. For some Chinese, they will not think of it as a problem because they’ve been eating it for many years. So they won’t change,” says Veronica.
Rising senior at Stony Brook University | Pre-med and double majors in Biology and Art History
Joyce Mei has always wanted to be in medicine. Growing up in Sunset Park, a community that has a dense Chinese immigrant population, she has become observant of the disparities that are unique to the Asian American community. For example, she points out that translation services are not always available. Developing a career in public health, she would like to improve people’s health literacy and Asian Americans’ access to healthcare. “For the general population, if they can understand that, ‘This is what I can do if I’m not feeling well,’ or ‘This is what good health care is supposed to be like,’ everyone’s health, no matter what the issue is, can improve,” says Joyce.
Rising senior at Columbia University | Majors in Psychology and minors in Ethnicity and Race with a focus on Asian American Studies
Heidi Park is an aspiring clinical psychologist with hopes of increasing representation in the field and tackling Asian American health issues. She is particularly interested in cultural and intergenerational issues as they relate to mental health. Using eating disorders as an example, she would like to explore the differences in mental health across cultures. “[The Project AHEAD interns] did not find [eating disorders] to be a prevalent issue among the community [seen by the Health Center], but anecdotally, when you talk to Asian American friends, so many can relate to common experiences around [body dissatisfaction].”
Rising senior at Cornell University | Majors in Biology with a concentration in Genetics
Austen Te has aspirations to become a surgeon or a doctorate candidate. He has also been developing his undergraduate research on the genetics behind cancer. “We’ve spent hundreds of years studying [cancer] and we have yet to find a definitive answer for it. I want to be one of the people that helps ease the pain of patients going through such a hardship,” says Austen. After spending time in research, he realizes that providing direct care to patients as a doctor is what resonates with him the most.
Rising junior at Stony Brook University |Majors in Health Science
Michelle Zou has plans to work in pediatric mental health and development, namely with individuals and children with special needs and disabilities. Growing up with an autistic younger brother, she never understood his condition. “When my brother was diagnosed, it was under-addressed at the time. The programs that I went to with my brother helped me understand my family so I want to continue that in the future,” says Michelle. She also has interests in exploring the administrative side of healthcare. “Clinical work can be direct in helping families understand the medical condition, but administrative work is just as important because some people don’t know that the support exists.”