Two women checking each other blood pressure
By Nicole San Roman

Communities to Careers

Inspiring Students to Find Careers in Health Care and Return to Serve Their Communities

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question posed to kids all the time but, oftentimes, the answer is limited to what’s familiar. A long-standing career program at the University of New Mexico Health and Health Sciences is expanding possibilities and changing the way students across the state see and achieve their futures in health care.

This year, Communities to Careers (C2C) is celebrating 20+ years of working with more than 2,500 students from kindergarten to graduate level studies who aspire to be health care professionals. The program is sponsored by the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. C2C includes hands-on, in-person exposure with engaging opportunities for students to explore different health careers alongside professional role models and mentors.

“First and foremost, the work we do is providing opportunities for those who haven't had opportunities,” said Valerie Romero-Leggott, MD. Romero-Leggott, Vice President and Executive Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer for the UNM Health Sciences Center. “As the Communities to Careers logo depicts, we strongly believe in growing our own, investing in the youth from New Mexico’s communities, and in doing so, fostering a workforce that will return to serve their communities and will reflect the populations they serve.”

In 2003, in collaboration with the College of Pharmacy, Romero-Leggott successfully wrote a federal grant to expand C2C from Albuquerque to rural parts of New Mexico, and from medicine to other health professions. Today, C2C offers 12 model programs in 36 sites across New Mexico. This includes five regional hubs throughout the state serving 18 counties and the Navajo Nation with plans to expand to additional counties in southeast and southwest New Mexico.

“These students are absolutely amazing,” Romero-Leggott said. “The projects and issues that they come up with and accomplish are bold and significant.”

C2C’s work starts with the littlest learners in elementary school.

“It’s super important to start upstream,” said C2C Director Amy Greene. “At the youngest level, we're really trying to get them excited about science, technology, engineering, art, math and health (STEAM-H), to give them a taste of why that might be interesting to them.” 

And that “taste” can be something fun and delicious like a science activity making ice cream with simple ingredients you can find around the house.

“We’ll link that activity to a story of somebody who was underrepresented in STEAM-H, who contributed to that field of science,” Greene said. “For example, one of the people that pioneered innovations with refrigeration happens to be a Black scientist, Frederick McKinley Jones.”

“In partnership with communities, we truly strive to have our workforce reflect the populations that we serve,” Romero-Leggott said. “In the end, it really makes a difference. Do you understand a community’s needs and their assets and their dreams and their culture, traditions and languages? We want students to continue to value and celebrate their culture, identity, languages and traditions; to know that these are not only critical to their success but to the success, growth and relevancy of educational and professional work environments and to advancing health equity.”


“As the Communities to Careers logo depicts, we strongly believe in growing our own - investing in the youth from NM communities ---and in doing so, fostering a workforce that will return to serve their communities and will reflect the populations they serve.” 

Valerie Romero-Leggott, MD 

That’s one reason role models are also a big part of the C2C programs. “A lot of students we're working with may not have anybody in their family who’s in health care already,” Greene said. “So, that's the bridge we're trying to build: to connect them with somebody inspiring who could say, ‘Hey, you know what, I went to your high school; I took a few twists and turns on my path but look here I am now. I'm a nurse here in your school community.’”

Romero-Leggott says C2C is expanding students’ perception of what they can be in the health care field.

“This is bringing about a whole new way for them to see health professionals. We offer a panoply of sessions with physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing and pharmacy, and work in public health to name a few. So, with all those experiences and role models, they can think, ‘Oh my gosh, I could be that!’”

C2C Summer Applications Now Open!

Click HERE for more information.

Deadline to Apply is April 7, 2023

Free Programs Available:

  • Elementary & Middle School: Summer of STEAM-H: STEM in 3D at UNM
  • High School Students: Health Careers Academy at 5 NM locations, PATH Emerging Scholars at UNM
  • College students: Undergraduate Health Science Enrichment Program at UNM
  • Pre-Professional students: Clinical Education Rural Immersion Program at multiple NM locations, and MCAT+, GRE+, DAT+ Test Prep offered online to NM residents.   

If you are interested in supporting the youth and the Communities to Careers Programs, click HERE.

Categories: Communities to Careers, Top Stories