Class of 2020
Current Position: Senior Program Manager, Healthy Little Havana, Miami, FL
After graduating in three years from JHU, PHS alumna Sofia Cuenca began working in Miami, FL, at Healthy Little Havana, a place-based non-profit organization that focuses on strengthening the Little Havana neighborhood by focusing on the social determinants of health and utilizes collective impact strategies to mobilize cross-sector partners in the areas of housing, education, employment, public space, and healthcare access.
Please describe your job as Senior Program Manager at Healthy Little Havana. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
My specific role as Senior Program Manager requires studying and implementing policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) change strategies to improve quality of life, disease outcome, and mental wellbeing in our community. This focus on PSE changes has led to projects such as a health impact assessment on how specific zoning regulations impact housing quality, affordability, and stability; the development of a community-based anti-illegal dumping and littering initiative; coordination of outreach efforts that reduce vaccine hesitancy, and many more public-health centered projects. Every day looks very different for me and it ranges from activities around grant writing, coalition-building, community outreach and engagement, strategic planning, and everything and anything within the project life cycle (planning, implementation, evaluation).
How did your interest in this type of work develop? How did your time at JHU and/or the PHS program prepare you for this role?
During my time at JHU I was very involved within the Baltimore community. I was a part of Hopkins Community Connections (formerly known as Health Leads), the Community Impact Internship Program where I was placed at Central Baltimore Partnership, Head of Household through Thread, and I was a course assistant for a Community-Based Social Entrepreneurship class through the Baltimore Collegetown Network. So much of the experiences I was attracted to and took part-in at Johns Hopkins were with small non-profit organizations where I was able to fall in love with community-based work and was able to witness the power of investing at the local level. These experiences paired with my public health courses and academic emphasis on social determinants of health and health equity lead to my professional interests in mobilizing cross-sector partnership to achieve population level change within underserved communities.
I graduated from Hopkins as a Public Health Studies (PHS) major with double minors in Entrepreneurship and Management and Psychology. The combination of these fields of study, especially the advanced public health courses from Bloomberg have been key to my success as not only a Public Health professional but also as a manager and leader.
Has your job deepened your understanding of the field of public health? In what ways?
My current job has allowed me to grow in the knowledge of public health primarily through the application of a) collective impact b) community engagement strategies and c) social determinants of health. Working at a small community-based non-profit has allowed me to gain hands-on experience such as implementing COVID-19 education campaigns but also being a part of a much larger ecosystem that strategically advocates for policy, analyzes necessary system changes, and makes built environment recommendations. In order to achieve the mission of the public health field, which is to promote and protect the health of people and their communities, it is important that as public health professionals we collaborate with other disciplines and ensure that our role of prioritizing the public’s health is at the forefront of decision-making whether that’s working with land-use attorneys, educators, or landscape architects. My job has definitely allowed me to learn the skills of how the public health knowledge that I learned in undergrad is operationalized.
Any advice for PHS undergraduates as they navigate how and what to pursue after JHU?
Use your time at Hopkins to get to know yourself. Public health is such a beautifully broad field that there is truly room for everyone. There are countless of opportunities available to you, so take that class that interest you, join that organization, apply for that internship, and talk to your professors. Part of the reason why I was able to graduate and immediately serve in a managerial role is because unknowingly, by following my passions, the entire time I was at Hopkins I was building applicable public health experience and skills – and I have no doubt that you all are too. For me, my wonderful friend Hope Burke at the Life Design Lab was key in making me realize the value I hold and the story I want tell when I meet others. Knowing what motivates and drives you is key to navigating life after JHU, and as long as you are sticking to your values, every small action is contributing to your much larger life goal.
Update 4/2022: Sofia will be headed back to school in the Fall of 2022, as she accepted an offer from the Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health’s Health and Social Behavior master’s program. Congrats Sofia!