Making a Community Impact: Lara Arce
Home is where the heart is. But even with her heart 2,000 miles away, Baylor University student Lara Arce still manages to take long strides in her fifth year at Baylor University. Raised in Puerto Rico, Lara never saw herself becoming a Texas resident, much less a Baylor Bear, but after joining the Public Health program as an undergraduate student, Lara knew she had found a home away from home.
Now, as a student in Baylor’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program, Lara feels that she has been equipped to make an important and effective impact in the community.
“I came into Baylor as a Biology pre-med student. I never really wanted to be a doctor, but I didn't know much else about the health field,” she says. “I ended up changing my major to Public Health by my second semester at Baylor, and I've been there ever since.”
Lara is a part of the Department of Public Health’s Joint Degree Program. This program allows her to complete a Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree and an MPH in Community Health Science in just five years. She is on track to graduate in May 2024.
“Many people ask, ‘What is public health?’” Lara notes. “When you're studying medicine or when you become a doctor, you help one individual at a time. When we're studying public health, you help communities and address communities.”
Coming from Puerto Rico, Lara says, has helped her bring a completely different perspective to the table, “When I came here to Baylor and I started studying public health, I noticed how a lot of the discussions would be one-sided.”
Being from a different culture, and especially a Hispanic culture, Lara states, has helped her see things in a completely different light and to offer a unique viewpoint that can positively benefit her fellow students, faculty instructors, and the communities she’s engaging. Lara also believes that her roots have helped her connect better with the people she works with.
“Back home, we're very big on family and community. So when we do public health outreach programs, I love meeting the people we’re serving, and I love making them smile,” she shares. “I like having those really big interactions with them and showing them how I'm not there to make them feel like I'm the savior. No, I'm not there to help—I'm there to literally be a partner.”
Lara fondly recalls a moment in her first year as an MPH student during the Mission Waco Health Fair when she oversaw the foot washing station. “I know some people probably think, ‘Oh, I don’t want to wash strangers’ feet.’ But for me, it was a beautiful experience just because you get to talk to people and take actual care of them.”
Working in public health, it is vital to focus on a community mindset. Often distinct from Western traditions and individualism, public health is meant to foster the growth of a population, rather than just a single unit.
“The focus has to be on a community’s perspective,” Lara emphasizes. "I think a lot of Hispanics could say that we all have a very big root in family and community—that's kind of how most of us were raised.”
In an institution where Hispanic students are a minority, it is even more important not to overlook Hispanic Heritage Month, and Lara feels that all Baylor students, faculty, and staff (and beyond) can learn a lot when they immerse themselves in the opportunities this month-long celebration presents.
“I think it's important to celebrate Hispanic heritage because, often, Hispanics are looked down on for no reason at all. We all come from beautiful cultures—plural,” she says. “It's beautiful to immerse ourselves in different cultures and different ethnicities and just learn from them. I truly believe that Hispanic cultures bring a lot of color and a lot of different perspectives on the history of where we come from, and how we ended up even in Texas. So even for Baylor, a dominantly white university, to expose students to these other cultures and their history, just makes us feel at home.”