Students obtaining their Master’s through the Colorado School of Public Health are encouraged to branch out of their comfort zone to gain new experiences and perspectives. Many times, students use their practicum as a way to broaden their professional experiences. A recent graduate from the Global Health and Health Disparities concentration, Andrea Moreno-Vasquez, chose a practicum site with The GrowHaus, after being inspired by the organization’s mission and inclusivity. This developed into a passion for addressing social determinants of health through the built environment and food access. “Before working with The GrowHaus, I knew I was passionate about working in underserved communities—but I did not know in what capacity exactly,” said Andrea of her experience.

The GrowHaus is a non-profit organization nestled in a federally defined food dessert in Denver, CO. The GrowHaus is committed to narrowing the disparity of food security that exists within the community it serves. Many of the services offered are tailored to meet the community’s needs, such as the sliding scale market fees, evening classes and events offered in English and Spanish, free summer camps for kids, and a weekly cooking class, to name a few. “I’m a strong believer that good health begins with access rather than education or behavior change. So many times – and I’ve been guilty of this – we educate, or conduct an intervention without being mindful of what is within a community’s reach. From the day I interviewed, I could feel that The GrowHaus staff was comprised of employees that really cared about the community and truly believe that healthy food is a right and not a privilege,” said Andrea.

MPH coursework facilitated much of Andrea’s work, “It was interesting to see what I had learned in school play out in real life. Theories, models, and public health ideas were put into practice – in school, all projects and theories are done in an idealistic manner. Yet, at a non-profit, every penny and every resource counts. It was impressive how much goes into a program.” This practicum experience provided Andrea with numerous valuable skills and abilities, and further solidified her interest in providing direct community services.

“My practicum also inspired me to be more conscious about waste, environmental conservation and stewardship—which led me to my capstone project with the National Park Service.”  Andrea’s capstone title was: Perils of The Potomac: direct and indirect messaging strategies to increase river safety awareness at C&O Canal National Historical Park.

“My time at The GrowHaus taught me the importance of being an agent of change within your own community.”  These principles have extended on with Andrea post-graduation, and are ingrained in her public health practice as a Research Specialist with the South Texas Area Health Education Center. “Although, previously, I had a desperate desire to work abroad, my education, internships and volunteer experience have indicated to me that I have a unique opportunity, as an ambicultural individual, to connect people here in the US. I am leveraging this to influence social change and improve health equity for all people.”