Throughout her academic career at the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, Michelle Heredia has devoted herself to empowering others, particularly the underserved.
Whether she is working with fourth graders, her peers as a sexual health educator, or pregnant women, Heredia has been there to listen, support and educate a variety of populations in their pursuit of better health.
Her ultimate goal is to empower them, as she puts it in her personal essay, “to be agents of change in their own personal health journeys.”
It is because of this commitment and leadership that she was awarded the prestigious Chancellor’s Award of Distinction. The honor recognizes exceptional graduating undergraduate students based on their research, leadership or service to UCI.
A caring nature, an interest in science
Since she was young, Heredia liked to take care of people. That and a natural interest in science led her to pursue nursing.
Her gifts were evident when she worked on her mentor Associate Professor Yuqing Guo’s maternal health study entitled UNITE: Smart, Connected, and Coordinated Maternal Care for Underserved Communities, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
This study aims to promote emotional resilience in underserved pregnant women through a technology-mediated self-management program. The goal is to improve health outcomes for mothers, babies, families and, ultimately, the community.
Creating this resilience is one way to reduce the maternal health disparities that underserved women in particular face.
Finding her passion
Through working on this project, Heredia has found her passion: She wants to work to eradicate maternal health disparities among African-American pregnant women in her eventual role as a public health nurse
“Their rate of maternal morbidity is 3 or 4 times that of white moms. That is completely unacceptable.”
As part of Guo’s study, Heredia empowered the women to use mind-body approach to cope with stress, as well as provided them with mental health education, social support and community resources so they and their babies could remain healthy during pregnancy and beyond. She also supported participants as they used smart technology and apps to understand their health data.
Guo supported Heredia’s application for the award because of her dedication to participants who were struggling with personal crisess during their pregnancies.
For example, Heredia brought her concerns about one participant to Guo and together they created a care plan for her. With Heredia’s support and encouragement, the woman now sees a therapist, is developing a self-care routine and practices mindful breathing to manage her distress.
“Michelle always spent extra time with her,” Guo remembers. “That kind of spirit and her always wanting to do her best really impressed me.”
Heredia says Guo’s mentorship and teaching style inspires her.
“From the get-go, she has always taken her students seriously. It’s never about her being the leader or what she says is law,” she says. “She gets our thoughts, our viewpoints. We always have a seat at the table.”
Her leadership brings out confidence in her students and empowers them, Heredia says.
Guo’s admiration is mutual. She predicts that Heredia has a long and bright career ahead of her.
“She will be a very, very talented nurse. We’re very proud of her,” she says. “She is passionate about public health issues — I saw that early. I think she will make significant contributions to the field.”