Meet the 2021 Exito! Latino Cancer Research Trainees


Exito 2021 summer institute cohort of latino training participants
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Program leaders have selected 26 aspiring Latino researchers from across the nation to join the 2021 cohort of Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training at UT Health San Antonio.

Each year, Éxito! recruits U.S. master’s level students and professionals to participate in a five-day, culturally tailored Éxito! summer institute to promote pursuit of a doctoral degree and cancer research.

The 26 new participants were selected from a deep pool of applicants.

Each participant now will join the Éxito! summer institute on June 7-11, 2021 in San Antonio. They will interact with Latino researchers and doctoral experts to learn about Latino cancer, succeeding in a doctoral program, and the diversity of research careers.

Meet the 2021 Éxito! Ccohort

  • Leslie Aragon, MPH, California State University Los Angeles
  • Perla Bravo, MPH, University of Washington
  • Liliana Chacon, MPH in Behavioral, Social, & Health Education Sciences, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University
  • Vivian Cortez, University of Texas at San Antonio, Kinesiology and Health
  • Gabriela Cruz, MPH (in progress with a concentration in global health practice), University of South Florida College of Public Health
  • Wilma Figueroa, MPH in Community Health Education; California State University, Long Beach
  • Bianca Garcia, MPH, Kansas State University
  • Samantha Gonzalez, MPH, University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, TX
  • Victoria Hartman, MPH (in progress), CSU Northridge
  • Jazmin Jimenez, MPH, University of Southern California
  • Paul Levy, Environmental and Occupational Health, Indiana University
  • Ylida Macias, Health Behavior and Health Promotion (in progress), New Mexico State University
  • AnaKaren Manriquez Prado, Community Health, International Relations and Spanish, Tufts University
  • Liz Martinez Ocasio, MPH in Biostatistics, University of Puerto Rico – Medical Sciences Campus
  • Ariel Morales, MPH in Epidemiology, University of Texas Health Science Center – Houston
  • Sonia Moreno Rogers, Public Administration, University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Rebecca Munoz, MPH, Baylor University
  • Carlos Orellana Garcia, MPH in Epidemiology, University of Texas Medical Branch
  • Julian Ponce, Public Health, Columbia University
  • Emily Rios, Clinical Investigation and Translational Science, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
  • Rejane Teixeira, Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, UTHealth Science Center at Houston (San Antonio regional campus)
  • Claudia Tejada, Public Health, University of South Florida
  • Patricia Trinidad, MPH, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB)
  • Cristian Vargas, MPH, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Denise Vasquez, MPH, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • Edgar Villavicencio, MPH with a concentration in Health Behavior Health Promotion, University of Arizona

“We feel that each of these candidates has amazing potential to succeed in a doctoral program, and become some of the next great leaders in Latino cancer research,” said Dr. Amelie Ramirez, director of Éxito!, which is based at the Institute of Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio, the team behind Salud America!.

The Need for Éxito!

Latinos earn just 3.9% of all science and engineering doctoral degrees conferred, according to the National Science Foundation.

Also, reports also show that Latinos are not proportionally represented in research, nursing, and doctoral fields.

Éxito! aims to increase that number.

Why Éxito! Works

Of 200 Éxito! trainees since 2011, about 30% have since enrolled in or graduated from a doctoral program.

Also, the Éxito! summer institute significantly increased trainees’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy, according to a recent study of Éxito! program results published in the Journal of Cancer Education. The study also found significant increased research skills among Éxito! interns.

Participants gather for a group photo at a past Exito Summer Institute.
Participants gather for a group photo at a past Éxito! summer institute.

In 2018, Éxito! was named an innovative “Program to Watch” in a report by Excelencia in Education, a national group that promotes Latinos in higher education. The group also includes Éxito! as part of its “Growing What Works Database.”

Excelencia also selected Éxito! as a finalist for its “Examples of Excelencia” award in 2018 and 2019.

What Éxito! Means to Trainees

Past Éxito! trainees say the program motivated and supported their pursuit of a doctorate.

“I had no one to talk with about the application process. Being a first-generation college graduate and master’s level graduate, I can’t get insight/guidance from family,” said Laura Rubalcava of San Antonio, a 2011 Éxito! trainee. “It’s been inspiring to see people just like me overcome barriers and become successful in their fields.”

Salud America! interviewed several Éxito! trainees about their experience earning their doctoral degrees:

Another trainee, Nicholas Acuna, is now a doctoral student at the University of Southern California.

He also said the summer institute provided him with future colleagues and friends he can rely on and push, because they all want to see each other succeed.

“I feel confident that I can get into a PhD program,” Acuna said. “To be honest, this was the first time I felt comfortable in a space with other individuals like myself.”

Applicants must: be a master’s-level health program student or master’s-trained health professional; have good academic standing; have strong verbal, written, interpersonal, and organizational skills; and not be current or accepted doctoral program students.

Go to to apply.

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Expected rise in Latino cancer cases in coming years

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