Cultivating a Community

Image Source: KTLA

My name is Shikha Jha, and I’m a rising senior majoring in Psychology alongside a certificate in Culture, Health, and Science. This summer, I’m a Public Health Scholar with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and I’m excited to be talking about my experiences with the Amherst STEM Network! Members of the cohort spend their time interning with local LA organizations catered to our public health interests, alongside presenting research on a specific facet of health inequity at a CDC Virtual Showcase. I’m specifically interning with the Health and Housing program of the organization A Community of Friends (ACOF), which provides subsidized housing and social reintegration services for homeless individuals in the area struggling with mental health illnesses.

As an intern, I’ll be assisting the coordinator with programming and organization of the resources that’ll be provided to the tenants by creating materials that promote health literacy, facilitating workshops on topics such as diabetes management and stress reduction, and working with other specialists to help tenants smoothly transition into education and workforce systems – a task I’m especially looking forward to is connecting with a tenant individually for the Companionship Calls Program, where I’ll be able to learn more about their personal journey. For my CDC research project, I’ll be working with two other Public Health Scholars to investigate the impact of stress and discrimination on disabled individuals/individuals with mental health struggles in local populations. Despite the program being virtual, I was able to receive funding to live in Los Angeles for the summer and will be able to experience some aspects of the program as intended, and I’m hoping to expose myself to the communities that I’m working with and studying!

As someone interested in pursuing medicine, I’m excited to have the opportunity to interact closely with individuals in a health-related capacity, but in a way that directly exposes me to the cracks in the healthcare system. The lack of housing nationwide and the subsequent rise in homelessness contributes to health disparities that are consistently left untreated, and viewing subsidized housing as healthcare helps me contextualize my interest in medicine and mental healthcare alongside my desire to specifically assist marginalized populations. I’m looking forward to my dedicated work with the homeless population and hope to enjoy LA’s vibrant culture during my time here!