Since 2000, FACES for the Future Coalition has established successful programs throughout California that support at-risk, minority high school students interested in careers in global and public health. On paper, I provide technical assistance to our existing programs, help build new FACES programs in communities of need, and I work on curriculum development, program evaluation and overall tool kit design. In practice, I am both mentor and mother. My job at FACES is multi-faceted, and I LOVE it. Anyone who knows me will tell you that boredom and I don’t get along, so the fact that I wear many hats suits me just fine. But it’s more than that. My position allows me to move between two very different perspectives that support and sustain one another – what happens “on the ground” with our students and a bird’s-eye-view of broader workforce development. Both ends of the spectrum inform each other, and I’m constantly made aware that individual programs are best served by incorporating trends in policy and workforce development, while broader program replication and advocacy must keep students’ realities at the mission’s core.
Last year, FACES for the Future began a partnership with Global Health Fellows Program (GHFP) II, hosted by the Public Health Institute that is exploring the application of the FACES program model to include careers in global health. The joint effort is centered on our shared belief that diversifying the global health workforce is a worthy task with tangible benefits, and that FACES students are inherently desirable candidates for careers in global health because they come from multi-lingual, multi-cultural backgrounds and have lived experiences resulting in resiliency, an ability to navigate systems and adaptive solutions-driven approaches to problem solving.
Recently we’ve begun looking at our partnership as a global health pathway system that builds deep partnerships with institutions and agencies further up the pathway while including our work with youth interested in global health careers. What does that mean? Well, FACES programs at the high school level enjoy tremendous success. The model is comprehensive and includes wrap-around services, internships and interventions that support a student holistically. 100% of our students graduate from high school and 92% of them enter into post-secondary pathways including college, professional certification or employment. This is no small feat given that FACES students are facing challenges associated with poverty, fractured families, immigration status, and community violence. If we apply the FACES model and expose youth to careers in global health, I know we’ll achieve similar results because we know the model works. But then what?
Who is going to coordinate services for our FACES students when they move into college ready to begin their journey to a career in global health? Are colleges and professional training institutions truly prepared to work with historically underserved youth and when we build a global health FACES program is the global health professional leadership ready to embrace them when they arrive as graduate level program fellows or future employees? What institutionalized mechanisms are in place to ensure their continued success?
In a recent report from The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education entitled “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States,” we learn that only 21% of low-income students in the United States who achieved acceptance into college end up being able to secure a bachelor’s degree. Often times we talk about youth being the “first in their family to go to college.” But going to college and finishing college are two different things, and lead to drastically different economic results for that young person’s family. We also know that the demands of 21st century technology and health delivery models require the highest level of academic rigor and training possible prior to entry into health related professions. Will diversified students be able to access academically rigorous programs if challenges in their personal and academic lives are not fully addressed and supported?
If we truly want to diversify the global health workforce, we are going to be confronted with the need to build bridges that transfer youth into programs at the post-secondary level; creating the continuity of care and services appropriate to the next stage of their professional development. Mentorship, access to academic support, peer networks, connection to wellness resources, professional development and so on; all will enable FACES students to fully realize their dream of joining the global health workforce. It is incumbent upon us to build systems of partnerships that see inherent value in nurturing students and to refuse to build individual programs that lack deeply knit services just because we can.
So from my bird’s-eye-view perspective at FACES, I understand the imperative in the field of global health to diversify its workforce; bringing together the multi-lingual, multi-cultural students who contribute unique and valued skill sets to the work. Yet I know from my direct interactions with students of color who have been underserved, that we will never be successful in building our desired global health workforce unless and until we build the systems of support necessary to ensure we grant each and every diverse student the access and opportunity to become the future of global health.
That’s why I’m grateful for the leadership of GHFP II in bringing together FACES for the Future at the high school level and GlobeMed at the undergraduate level, for the purposes of further exploring how we create such a global health pathway system. This initial effort has led to the development of a GlobeMed chapter at San Francisco State University that will allow FACES students in our Bay Area programs direct access to a partner prepared to train them for global health careers. It is a first step in creating the type of system I’m envisioning, and I see great potential in scaling this effort so we can be reassured that we are recruiting and retaining the very best and brightest, and diverse group of students. Of course, the students deserve our very best efforts on their behalf. But doesn’t the future of the global health workforce deserve it too?
S. Brooke Briggance is FACES for the Futures’ Program Manager