June Homdayjanakul at the Naja Shrine in Chonburi, Thailand

First-year Master of Public Health student June Homdayjanakul has some exciting travel plans. In just over a month, June is headed to Bangkok, Thailand to complete her practicum and capstone with the World Health Organization Thailand and its Collaborating Center. Her coursework in the Global Health and Health Disparities concentration has certainly prepared her for this remarkable opportunity, but so has her life experience.

She is a first-generation Thai-American, the daughter of immigrants from Thailand who moved to Los Angeles just before June was born. Her family relocated to Denver in search of work when June was a young girl. “We lived in the basement of a sewing factory for a while. But my parents are an example of the pursuit of the American dream,” she says. “My mom is a business owner now. My sisters are business owners now. Our circumstances have changed. My family was able to pour everything they had into furthering my education, and for that I am very fortunate.”

While attending high school in Aurora, June began to explore her nascent interest in global issues and health. In addition to being a student in her school’s International Baccalaureate (IB program), she started a student organization, Youth for Uganda, and was Vice President of Sisters Involved in the Community. These programs gave June her first experience with fundraising, event planning, and networking.

June received her Bachelor’s degree from Metropolitan State University of Denver, with a major she designed herself entitled International Affairs and Global Health. She pieced together coursework in clinical pathophysiology, parasitology, anatomy, political science, and international studies to create a curriculum that fit her unique interests. June coupled her academic trajectory with international service, volunteering in a rural health clinic in Nepal. “I didn’t realize that all of these interests could fit into a career until I discovered public health my senior year,” June notes. But when she made that discovery, June completed her applications for Master of Public Health programs within the month, and was accepted to the Colorado School of Public Health. She chose to attend the Colorado State University campus because of the Global Health and Health Disparities concentration.

Once she started her Masters of Public Health program, June did not waste any time searching for her practicum and capstone. The practicum and capstone are integral practice-based learning components of the MPH degree, and are highly tailored to each student’s individual interests. “My top priority was getting field experience, applying what I learned in classes like Field Epidemiology, to real on-the-ground work,” she says. To accomplish this, June began her search early, starting in October of her first year. She also bypassed many formal internship programs, instead contacting the WHO office in Thailand directly, where she was introduced to all of the great work the WHO Collaborating Centers are doing. “I have the academic background, speak fluent Thai, and have visited Thailand many times. Because of all those things, I thought seeking an experience to promote the health of the Thai population would be ideal.”

This summer, June will be working with the WHO Collaborating Center for Research and Training on Viral Zoonoses in Bangkok. Her preceptor, Dr. Thiravat Hemachudha, is an expert in this region and this field, focusing most of his work on neurological diseases, like rabies. Since she is stepping into a new position, June is not sure exactly what the scope of her work will be. “I know I will be doing community outreach, probably some field visits. For my capstone, I am hoping to do a survey of the perceived rabies risk to humans in rural areas as compared to urban ones. Though I am sure this plan will change once I arrive on site. That’s the exciting thing about field work.”

In the future, June hopes to work at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a public health analyst, perhaps pursuing a PhD or DrPH program after being a full-time practitioner for a few years. But for now, she is just looking forward to her work this summer.