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Diana Hernandez Payano smiling and standing by the ocean Diana Hernandez Payano smiling and standing by the ocean

Resiliency Scholarship Program Empowers Student in Pursuit of Public Health Education and Leadership

To enhance access to public health education for students from all backgrounds, the Department of Public Health Sciences (DPHS) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine launched the Resiliency Scholarship Program in January 2021. Diana Hernández Payano became the first recipient of the scholarship two years ago and successfully completed her M.S.P.H. on May 11th, 2023.

The scholarship program was launched with the objective of supporting a resilient M.P.H. or M.S.P.H. student dedicated to addressing community or global public health issues. Coming from a background where access to proper education seemed limited, Diana's journey from a young, rural girl in Tenares, Dominican Republic, to a graduate student pursuing higher education abroad has been a testament to her unwavering determination and resilience.

The scholarship provides the chance to honor the fortitude and tenacity of people who have encountered and overcome tremendous obstacles in life. Candidates for this award must clearly express their interest in the importance of overcoming adversity and show how their individual circumstances have influenced their educational and career ambitions.

Diana's designation as the first recipient of the Resiliency Scholarship holds immense personal significance for her. “It has been my biggest life accomplishment,” she said.

The scholarship's provision of full tuition has not only alleviated financial burdens but has also enabled Diana to immerse herself fully in her studies and extracurricular activities. It has provided her with the opportunity to engage wholeheartedly in the DPHS community, embrace diverse experiences, and make a meaningful impact in her field.

A Nurturing Environment

Diana attributes a significant portion of her success to the supportive environment fostered by the DPHS staff and faculty. She expressed her deepest appreciation to the department for granting her the scholarship, which enabled her to pursue her passion. Key individuals, such as Drs. Viviana Horigian, James Shultz, and Paulo Pinheiro played crucial roles in making this opportunity a reality. Their belief in Diana's personal resilience and unique life circumstances, as well as her potential as a future public health leader, has been a driving force behind her accomplishments.

She also extends her appreciation to the numerous staff members of DPHS who have played integral roles in her success. Individuals such as Margie Jimenez, Begoña Rovira, Rosa Verdeja, Catherine Tunnell, Ginelle Solis, Katelyn McGuigan, and many others have contributed in countless ways, providing assistance and support throughout her journey in the program.

Diana particularly acknowledges Dr. David Lee, her mentor, and supervisor, for providing her with numerous opportunities and experiences that have greatly contributed to her success. Through her work as a graduate research assistant under Dr. Lee's guidance, Diana has been able to translate theoretical knowledge into practical application in population-based studies of various diseases among diverse populations.

She also commends Dr. Tulay Koru-Sengul, her M.S. academic advisor and thesis committee chair, for the unwavering support, encouragement, and commitment she has shown not only in academics and thesis projects but also in Diana's overall personal and professional growth. “There are times in one’s life as a student when they encounter a professor that has set the tone of excellence, grit, and passion. Luckily, I have had many of those,” said Diana.

Diana has benefited greatly from the guidance of her mentors, whose support has been instrumental in her achievements. Engaging in a wide range of extracurricular activities, including serving as a DPHS student ambassador, an active member of the Public Health Student Association (PHSA) executive board, and a teaching assistant for five classes, Diana has been able to assist fellow students in adjusting to graduate school and navigating the department's extensive resources. Her role as a graduate research assistant, particularly in clinical settings, has provided her with the invaluable opportunity to interact with participants and apply her classroom knowledge to real-world population-based studies.

The Resiliency Scholarship not only acknowledges Diana’s personal journey but also affirms the department's recognition of her potential as a future public health leader committed to creating a healthier world for all. “It has been an absolute pleasure having Diana in our program, but especially as our first DPHS Resiliency Scholarship recipient,” said Margie Jimenez, Assistant Chair of DPHS.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment and an opportunity of a lifetime. The training she has received in our program will be a lifelong and life-changing experience not just for Diana but for the many individuals she will help along the way. We are proud of her and looking forward to hearing of her many contributions and impact in the field of public health,” she concluded.

Diana's accomplishments and experiences throughout her M.S.P.H. journey have solidified her commitment to the field of public health. Building upon her passion for cancer research and clinical trials, Diana has recently accepted a full-time position as a Manager of Research Support for the Clinical Research Services Department in the Sylvester Cancer Center at the University of Miami. This exciting opportunity allows her to further her career and make significant contributions in the field she has grown to love during her time as a student.

Looking ahead, Diana envisions returning to the DPHS to pursue her Ph.D. in Epidemiology. This reflects her persistent dedication to advancing her knowledge and skills in order to effect meaningful change in the field of public health. Through her continued education and future endeavors, Diana intends to make significant contributions to the research and practice of epidemiology, ultimately improving public health outcomes and making a lasting impact on her community.

Diana's journey as an M.S.P.H. student at DPHS has been defined by remarkable experiences, outstanding mentorship, and unparalleled opportunities. Through her perseverance and resilience, she has overcome challenges and emerged as a dedicated public health professional. The support and guidance of the DPHS staff and faculty, coupled with the recognition and financial assistance provided by the resiliency scholarship, have been instrumental in her accomplishments.

Her future aspirations in cancer research, coupled with her desire to pursue a Ph.D. in Epidemiology, highlight her commitment to improving public health outcomes. Her remarkable journey serves as an inspiration to future students, illustrating the transformative power of education and resilience in the pursuit of a career dedicated to public health.

Written by Deycha Torres Hernández
Published on May 22, 2023