USC Leonard Davis PhD in Gerontology candidate Catherine Pérez goes beyond conducting research on social determinants of health and health disparities in minority communities; she addresses the needs of others directly through her extensive service to fellow students and community members.
“I am actively involved because I want to do my part in improving the lives of people in my community and beyond,” Pérez explains. “As a Puerto Rican, Honduran, and Arawak Indian female, and the first in my family to pursue a college education, I am attuned to the scale of social and economic challenges that impact disadvantaged individuals and communities. I genuinely want to do my part to lessen the challenges faced by others because I have learned many things on the way but have also been supported by many great people, so it’s my way of paying it forward.”
Pérez, who first came to USC in 2014, says her time at USC and the opportunities found here have “shaped [her] into the scholar [she is] today.”
“While at USC, I have been afforded many opportunities and received tremendous support that has enhanced my understanding of Latinx aging and health,” she says. “I have great mentors, Assistant Professor Jennifer Ailshire and University Professor Eileen Crimmins, that support me, encourage me, and endorse me, and I take their advice sincerely. Their mentoring over the years has motivated me to seek opportunities to assist others.”
Pérez’s service to fellow USC students includes teaching workshops for students learning to use statistical software and to apply methods for analyzing quantitative data in social science research. She has also discussed social determinants of health with Cal State LA students considering health professions and has volunteered at her alma mater, UCLA, as an alumni mentor for undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I have always expressed an ardent desire and commitment in helping others to succeed by removing obstacles that hinder success,” Pérez says. “For as long as I can remember, I have sought every opportunity to facilitate the learning experience of our students.”
She also represents the USC Leonard Davis student body on the school’s diversity and inclusion committee, which “allows me to represent the student body to ensure that there is change related to race and racism and ameliorating disparities in higher education for minority students,” she says. This semester, Pérez also started volunteering at the USC Gould School of Law Project Citizenship Clinic, where she assists Latinx migrants completing their applications for U.S. citizenship.
Pérez has been named the 2018 recipient of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE) Student Leadership Award. She says she is “extremely humbled and honored” by the recognition.
“This allows me to highlight my leadership and research aimed at ameliorating health disparities among older minority and immigrant Latinxs,” Pérez says. “This award is an affirmation of my unwavering determination to continue to do my research while also instructing, motivating, and supporting others to be courageous in their attempts to achieve their goals.”