Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good

  • Portrait of Susie Zelaya Rivera

Susana (Susie) Zelaya Rivera

Class Year


My Major/ Minor/ Campus Organizations

Major: Culture and Health Studies & Spanish

Minor: Latin American Studies

Campus Organizations: Fellow of the Parlee Center for Science and the Common Good, Fellow of the Melrose Center for Global Civic Engagement, TLI Student Consultant, Spanish Tutoring, Spanish Volunteering, Hospice Volunteer, and Independent Research


Washington, DC

What should matter to me?

I’m really passionate about the intersections of medicine, health policy, and finding a way to contribute to solving health inequities. My experiences from volunteering in Costa Rica, studying abroad in Nicaragua, and civic engagement in my own community have shaped my commitment to working with communities of color. My vocation was deeply impacted by the speaker series on health disparities that the Parlee Center hosted my sophomore year and this sparked my interest in ways to solving issues that impact people of color’ wellbeing. My learning and knowledge from the Parlee Center courses has molded my interest in health policy and working with communities of color in order to dismantle institutions/social constructs that create barriers to their wellbeing. This sense of justice I believe has allowed me to grow and challenge myself as an individual and scholar to understand my positionality in the society that we live in.

How should we live together?

I believe that my life, undergraduate, and Parlee center courses (LAS 332 and ENV 242) experiences have taught me that in our society we need to seek justice and equity. We all have moral obligations to assess our privileges and understand how we can use them in order to work with others. I strongly believe that we should live together in a way that empowers and uplifts everyone no matter their race, ethnicity, documentation status, sexuality, disability, socioeconomic status, etc. I also think we need to examine the way we live and the connections to the world we live in and have an open-mind to learning about other cultures. It is imperative for everyone to do their part in taking accountability and reflecting about the role they play in a local, national, and global aspect.

My Parlee Center Internship was conducted through the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC). I was able to spend four weeks in the community of Alajuelita, Costa Rica. As a volunteer I interacted directly with patients from the community and migrants from other Central American countries. I worked on workshops and information pamphlets discussing HIV/aids, diabetes, and nutrition—which were given to disability students at the local school. I also had the opportunity of shadowing the doctor and observing the way she connected/listened to each patient.

How can we understand the world?

I am hoping that through my self-initiated major, Culture and Health Studies, and research I can better understand the world and the role I play in it. My courses in my Spanish major and Science and the Common Good (POL 336) course have made me challenge what I already know and the institutions I live in. I believe that in order to understand the world we need to challenge and reflect on the knowledge we have and retain. It is important to constantly be pushing yourself to understand the limitations and strengths that individuals, communities, and countries face/have.

In addition, I did the FUTURE program with Dr. Ellen Dawley where we studied microglial cells and spinal cord regeneration in axolotls. I was also a research assistant in Dr. Vanessa Volpe’s HEAL lab, examining the different barriers students of color experience at predominantly white institutions. I also participated in Summer Fellows and was a FUTURE mentor for summer 2018, where I created my own independent research project on a meta-analysis investigating stigma and mental health for people of color. My research experiences has impacted the way I understand the world and pushed me to continue learning about it.

What will I do?

I plan on taking a gap year before attending medical school, I hope to work during that year to expand my vocation on health policy and possibly get my master’s specializing in healthcare and economics. I also plan on applying to fellowships to continue my learning about the world around me and civic engagement to Latin America.