Student Spotlight: Emily Torres, MPH

Published: May 13, 2024

Emily Torres, a graduate assistant at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living since October 2022, is looking forward to receiving her Master of Public Health from UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Austin! 

As graduation is a time for academic reflection, Torres — an El Paso native — answered several questions about her experiences at the Austin location and what drew her to a career in public health policy. 

Q: What inspired you to pursue a master’s in public health and how has your perspective evolved since starting the program? 

A: A graduate degree is something I have always wanted to pursue. I also have always had an interest in going into healthcare, but as I learned more about the different influences on public health, I realized I did not want to go into health in a "traditional" sense, like nursing or medical school. 

As an undergraduate student at UT-Austin, I majored in Health & Society and minored in government. These degrees helped me explore health in a more interdisciplinary sense by drawing attention to the interactions between public health and the fields of sociology, geography, and policy.  

For my graduate studies, then, I chose public health to learn more about the wide range of influences on our health and how public health practitioners can address those influences to improve health outcomes. This program has shifted my perspective by showing me how far-reaching public health really is. As a student, you learn about upstream effects on health and their importance in disease prevention and health promotion. In addition to learning more about these influences, I have gained real-world experience in various aspects of public health programming. I am leaving this program with tangible experiences in the everyday work of public health practitioners. 

Q: Why did you select the Austin location to pursue your degree, and what has been your best memory as a student? 

A: I chose to study in Austin mainly because of my interest in health policy. I thought my best chance to get experience in public health policy in Texas would be to live and work in the state's capital.  

The work of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living and the Texas Research-to-Policy Collaboration (TX RPC) Project team caught my attention. I have been fortunate enough to work with the TX RPC Project at UTHealth Houston, and many of my favorite experiences have been with this team.   

Specifically, the TX RPC Project organizes Lunch & Learns at the Capitol for legislators and their staff to learn more about public health research. Every time our team goes to the Capitol, I feel inspired and proud of the work we do. 

Q: You completed your MPH practicum with the TX RPC Project. Tell us about your work! 

A: My practicum was focused on talking to college students — who see their future careers in the healthcare sector — about their thoughts on the influence of public policy on public health. It's been really interesting to see how the next generation of leaders is thinking about the intersection of different fields and public health.

Q: As you reflect on your time studying in the program and working at the Center, what skills or knowledge do you feel you have gained that will be most valuable as you transition into the next phase of your career?  

A: The professors at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Austin are always willing to lend a hand in any way they can. From coursework to professional development, they always want to help you succeed.  

Many of my courses also have integrated practical experiences that can be put on a resume or talked about in an interview. A lot of my coursework allowed me to identify public health areas of interest that I wanted to be the focus of my practicum assignment. Taking ownership of my work in this way has allowed me to dive deep into different public health topics, from maternal and child health to e-cigarette use, to Medicaid coverage. I have had so many worthwhile experiences as a student and working with the TX RPC Project.