Janet Rodriguez grew up thinking she wanted to be a nurse.

To accomplish that goal, she took the prerequisite classes and put herself on a waiting list for a spot in a community college program.

“I knew I wanted to go into the health field, and I thought nursing was the only way to get there,” she said.

A few years passed without her starting the program. “I felt stuck.”

At that point, she transferred to CSU Monterey Bay, and realized how many opportunities there are to work in the field that interested her.

“Researching majors made me realize that there was this whole different side to health – the administrative, community educational and policy side of it,” she said.

“That’s why I chose Collaborative Health and Human Services.”

Her summer internship confirms she made the right decision.

She is spending her summer in a paid position with the Monterey County Health Department’s Planning, Evaluation and Policy Unit. Among other things, the unit works to bring the various bureaus of the department together. Her job focuses on outreach and public education around health issues.

As she talks about what she’s learning on the job, it’s clear that she is passionate about serving her community. She understands the barriers facing people in underserved communities and wants to help teach them how to access the information they need to live healthier lives.

She secured the internship through Health Careers Connections (HCC), a non-profit organization in the Bay Area that provides opportunities for students who are interested in pursuing careers in health care or public health. The internships allow students to explore career choices while developing leadership skills.

With financial support from the California Endowment, students are placed with organizations that are part of Building Healthy Communities, a project geared to improving the health of residents of East Salinas. Through that connection, Rodriguez ended up with the county position.

And she’s making the most of it.

“I have the opportunity to learn about various positions within the Health Department,” she said. “I am learning what it takes to effectively collaborate with others to bring a goal to fruition,” she said.

“I have an excellent preceptor, Erica Padilla-Chavez, who is passionate about what she is doing and definitely portrays the leadership qualities needed to accomplish the goals set by the Health Department,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez has three semesters left to complete her degree. Her plans for the future include pursuing a master’s degree in public health and landing a job in community outreach and education.