Clara Barajas grew up working in farm fields and picking crops with her siblings. As a child, she recalls serving as a translator and helping loved ones get needed health care services. As a public health professional, she advocates for the health interests of the Latino community.
January 21, 2020
Growing up in a family of seasonal farmworkers in rural Michigan gave Clara Barajas, Spartan in Public Health, an appreciation for education.
“My parents always talked about the importance of staying in school so that we would have a better job,” said Barajas, who began taking community college courses while in high school.
She recalls a typical day working in the fields.
“I helped pick a variety of crops—apples, peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers. Working outdoors, we always layered clothes to stay warm in the morning and take off as the day got hotter,” she said. “Although at the time I did not enjoy spending the summers working in the fields, I do have happy memories of my siblings and me laughing and racing each other to see who could finish a row first.”
Barajas also recognized, early on, that she had a desire to help others.
“I often accompanied family friends to doctor appointments to help translate and fill out paperwork,” said Barajas, who currently works as a research assistant at the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions. “I remember helping to translate when I was as young as age 10; I’m a native Spanish speaker and learned English in elementary school. Most of the family friends that I helped translate for spoke limited English. I enjoyed helping people get access to health care services.”
As a freshman at MSU, Barajas received support through the Michigan State University College Assistance Migrant Program Scholars Initiative (MSU CAMP), a residential program that assists migrant and seasonal farmworker students with academic, social, and financial support.
During a summer internship in North Carolina with the Student Action with Farmworkers organization in 2013, Barajas worked at a community health clinic and supported public health initiatives. This is when she realized her interest in public health as a career.
“I learned that public health serves as an umbrella for a variety of health-related careers and has a primary focus on disease prevention. I decided to pursue a career in public health because I enjoy working with the community and discovering new ways to improve and protect our health.”
While working on her master’s degree in public health (MPH), she was employed with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA).
“I liked that MSU’s MPH program was offered completely online, which allowed for a flexible schedule,” Barajas said. “I was able to work outside of Michigan and complete my courses.”
She first worked at the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) as a project coordinator for Community Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention (CX3), and then transitioned into a graduate worker position focused on intergenerational efforts.
Through both positions, Barajas worked under the Community Health Action Team and provided support for the annual Love Your Heart day, assisting with partner recruitment and distribution of supplies.
Love Your Heart is an annual event in which organizations from across the U.S. and Mexico join together to provide free blood pressure screenings to the public on February 14. “Last year more than 43,000 people got to know their blood pressure numbers and took charge of their own heart health,” Barajas added.
She earned her master of public health degree from MSU in 2017 and a certificate in public health administration.
Barajas is now the communications chair for the Latino Caucus for Public Health, an organization whose mission is to represent and advocate for the health interests of the Latino community, both within and outside the American Public Health Association.
“Through research, we know that many Latinos don't seek medical care and are often diagnosed with health diseases late. Data can help identify issues and support health initiatives aimed to reduce health disparities,” she said.
In 2019, Barajas co-authored a paper—"Coping, Discrimination, and Physical Health Conditions among Predominantly Poor, Urban African Americans: Implications for Community-Level Health Services”—which was published in the Journal of Community Health. She also co-authored two papers that appeared in the Journal of Community Psychology, and Prevention Science.
She is in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs in community health and prevention.
“Throughout my MPH, I gained experience in public health practice and started to get more involved with research. With a Ph.D., I will improve those skills and have the ability to conduct my own research.”
Clara Barajas’ Steps to a Public Health Career
2013 – summer internship in North Carolina with the Student Action with Farmworkers organization
2014 – bachelor of science degree from MSU in human development and family studies and specialization in health promotion
2015 – San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) –
project coordinator for Community Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention (CX3); graduate worker focused on intergenerational efforts
2017 - master of public health degree from MSU
2017 – research assistant with the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions in Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, Division of Public Health