Posted on October 25, 2021 by Amanda Cerreto

If someone asked Ravee Mata '22 four years ago where she'd end up, acceptance into a nationally competitive public health program that changed the trajectory of her future would never be her answer.

Ravee Mata And yet, the University of Texas at San Antonio senior has done just that. Last summer, Mata was the only student selected from the state of Texas to participate in the UCLA Public Health Scholars Training Progra m .

The program enrolls roughly 50 students nationwide for an 8-week summer training program. Scholars are matched with partnering organizations and contribute to public health projects, as well as attend networking and educational programming.

Mata, who at one time had plans to attend nursing school before discovering public health, encourages all students to pursue this opportunity. The experience she had ended up changing the trajectory of her career plans.

"I planned to go straight into graduate school," Mata said. "But after doing the program and hearing other people’s stories, I found that for many it was helpful to do a fellowship." Now Mata plans to pursue a fellowship with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a two-year program.

Mata's journey to public health was a very personal one. “My older sister passed away when I was in high school,” Mata shared. “My family was receiving help from the Children’s Bereavement Center and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.”

At the time, Mata said, she wasn't aware that these organizations were nonprofits. She was merely grateful to receive assistance during the most difficult time in her life.

As she began to consider college, UTSA was the first on her list. “I was part of the Upward Bound program, and they helped me apply to colleges,” Mata said. “My first choice was UTSA because I was eligible for scholarships, but also because I knew I would be able to get a community of first-gen and lower income students helping me to pursue my college degree.”

Once she arrived at UTSA, Mata planned on following a path for nursing. When she began taking classes in community health, she realized the connection between a public health degree and the programs that had helped her so much during that hard time in her life. So she pivoted to a public health major to gain experience in the nonprofit sector.

“Ravee represents so many public health students – she is a first-gen student that has passionately pursued academic and professional opportunities for growth,” said Erica Wallace , public health lecturer. “She truly understands the connection between personal behaviors, systems, and population-level health outcomes. I’m thrilled she was selected and got to participate in such a great opportunity and can’t wait to see what impact she will have in the field in the future.”

With the training program behind her and an eye on a fellowship ahead, Mata reflects on her time at UTSA with a grateful heart. “The students are really open here,” she said. “It's such a diverse and welcoming community.”

Mata also credits UTSA for the plethora of career and networking opportunities, including the recently-completed training program. “I've gained so many opportunities just from casually talking to professors,” she said. “I was able to create a support system from the Access College and Excel (ACE) Scholars Program, study abroad in Spain, and was selected for the Who's Who Award at UTSA in 2021.”

Academic achievements are only part of Mata's UTSA experience. She is actively involved in the Hispanic Student Association, McNair Scholars Program, Trio Student Support Services, has completed three semesters of Honors Alliance, and served as secretary for Eta Sigma Gamma and as Peer Mentor for the First-Year Experience.

As a formerly shy student herself, Mata encourages everyone to come out of their shells and pursue opportunities like the Public Health Scholars Training program, as you never know where it can lead you.

“This is your time to gain knowledge from others around you, and most importantly, they want to share it with you too! Although it can be fun and scary, I encourage everyone to take a leap of courage by placing themselves in positions they're not comfortable with,” she said. “Those are experiences that will help you grow and give you new memories. No matter the amount of public health experience you have, the program wants to provide that education to you.”

— Amanda Cerreto