11:36 a.m. PDT May 12, 2016
Estefanía Ramos Torres knew she wanted to work in health care before she started first grade.
She heard her uncle’s artificial valve beat differently than a traditional heart beat and a spark of curiosity ignited.
Torres asked her mother why his heart beat sounded different and her mother explained by telling her the heart had four rooms with four doors; one of her uncle’s doors was just different.
Torres would later find out that the rooms were the chambers of the heart, and the doors were valves, but as a young girl, she imaged the heart like a doll’s house.
She was curious, eager to learn more about what was happening inside the body, and has since fed that curiosity with internships and volunteer work at local health facilities like Salem Hospital.
Now 18 years old, Torres is graduating from North Salem High School and will attend Willamette University in the fall, planning to be a pre-med student and double major in Neuroscience and Spanish. She said she wants to be a pediatric cardiologist.
Torres is able to attend Willamette in part because of a $10,000 scholarship she received from The Kaiser Permanente Northwest (KPNW) Health Care Career Scholarship Program.
Kaiser Permanente Northwest has awarded $524,000 in scholarships to 141 high school seniors and 25 college sophomores in Oregon and Southwest Washington this year, including Torres and five other Salem-Keizer students.
The scholarship program is part of a larger Kaiser Permanente effort to improve community health by helping diverse and economically disadvantaged students pursue college and health care professions, said Melissa Leonard, program manager with Kaiser Permanente.
Seniors from 133 public high schools in Kaiser Permanente’s service area, which spans from Longview, Washington, to Eugene, Oregon, were eligible to apply. College students who originally received the scholarship as high school seniors were eligible to apply as continuing Kaiser Scholars as well.
The scholarship money can be applied to any non-profit school in the country, said Leonard, and students across 14 counties received scholarships in amounts of $2,000, $5,000 or $10,000.
The scholarships follow Kaiser Permanente’s December 2015 investment of more than $100,000 in grants awarded to five community-based organizations supporting educational development along the pre-K to 12th grade spectrum.
“Since 2008, we’ve awarded more than $2.5 million in scholarships because we know that the more educated people are, the healthier they are,” said Tracy Dannen-Grace, director of community partnerships and philanthropy at Kaiser Permanente, in a statement.
“And when the health care workforce reflects the patients it serves, more people have access to better quality care, so it’s a no-brainer for us to invest in this amazing group of young, diverse scholars who wish to enter health care careers.”
About three-quarters of all 2016 recipients are students of color, two-thirds are bilingual and two-thirds are first-generation college-bound students.
More than a third of all recipients are from Latino backgrounds, reflecting both a national increase in Latino college enrollment rates and a trend of increased Latino scholarship applicants identified by Education Northwest in its September 2015 evaluation of the KPNW Health Care Career Scholarship Program.
“We have a lot to learn from (the students),” Leonard said.
Torres comes from a background of poverty and perseverance.
One day when Torres was three years old, her parents woke her and told her to grab just one of her dolls.
She grabbed the doll her grandmother gave her for her first birthday.
They were leaving Mexico; they told Torres they were “going to the north.”
Though she struggled to learn English and adapt culturally, Torres soon found her rhythm and place in American society, while still finding a way to claim her heritage and identity.
Social justice became an important issue for Torres, due to both personal experiences and encounters she has had as a hospital volunteer.
She said some of the people she helped reminded her of her family and the struggles they have faced, particularly because of economic and language barriers. She decided she wanted to be part of the solution.
“As a physician, I want to help the population in the most need,” Torres said. “I want to use my knowledge and passion in medicine to contribute (to) change in the world.”
Teachers Amy Divelbiss and Cipriano Mañon Muñoz of North Salem High School also received “outstanding educator” awards for their role in facilitating student success.
In their honor, Kaiser Permanente is donating $5,000 to North Salem High School.
Recipients will be celebrated at a reception and ceremony at the OHSU Collaborative Life Sciences Building in Portland on Saturday.
The event will feature a keynote from Nichole Maher, president and CEO of the Northwest Health Foundation; a career fair; tours of the OHSU Simulation Center; and a performance by the Comparsa Orgullo Morelense Cemiac Chinelos dancers.
Natalie Pate is the education reporter for the Statesman Journal. Contact Natalie at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate, on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist or on the Web at nataliepate.com