Maythana Paquete graduated from the UMD School of Public Health in 2012 with a degree in Behavioral & Community Health. After working in public health policy for three years, May became a 2015-2016 Health for America Fellow at MedStar Health, where she was challenged to create an innovative solution for improving outcomes for people living with type 2 diabetes. During her fellowship, May and three other fellows immersed themselves in all aspects the chronic disease, including simulating living with diabetes and eating meals they prepared on a food-stamps budget for two-week periods. After four months of study and interaction with patients and clinicians, the team created WellRooted, a unique food delivery and education service tailored for type 2 diabetes needs.

In one sentence, what is public health to you?

At its core, public health is about people and making sure people are healthy, happy, and safe. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge that the public health field should be focusing on?

I think the biggest issue is helping people develop essential life skills. About 75 percent of leading causes of death in the U.S. can be attributed to lifestyle. Most of those issues can be avoided with nutrition and lifestyle education.

Why did you choose public health at UMD?

I actually started at UMD as a computer science major. At the time, all of my roommates were public health majors, and I found myself more interested in their work than I was in mine! That's when I knew I had to make the switch. 

What person or experience had the greatest impact on you during your degree program?

It's impossible to pick just one; there were so many classes in the SPH offerings that just opened and expanded my mind. I would say that Public Health and Nutrition was one of the more meaningful classes for me. I had a fantastic professor and I apply the learnings from that class in my life every day.

Tell us a little about how you landed in the Health for America fellowship program. Who helped you along the way?

One of my colleagues shared the fellowship ad with me and I just jumped at it. It was a chance to get my hands dirty and make a change. One thing that helped me stand out as a candidate was the grant writing class I took at SPH! I shared the results of that class during the application process and they were really impressed. 

What’s a specific way that your time at UMD SPH prepared you for the work you encountered as a Health for America fellow?

UMD encouraged me to always be curious. That curiosity helped me throughout the fellowship, from understanding complex networks to learning new subjects. Having an academic understanding of the root of the problems faced by the population with which I was working was also vital.

How did your time as a Health for America fellow shape your understanding of public health, and of how you want to work in this field?

Participating in the fellowship helped me gain a holistic picture of public health, and it helped me concretely understand how different stakeholders and systems work together. It helped me understand on a practical level what I was taught at SPH.

How did this fellowship challenge you? What was your greatest takeaway?

The fellowship introduced me to new disciplines that I can explore alongside public health. As a Fellow, I studied human-centered design, and was amazed by how well health and design fit together. 

What advice do you have for the incoming class of public health students?

There is so much opportunity in the world of public health. Don't be afraid to explore and cross-pollinate. Join an entrepreneurship club and bring your public health savvy to it. That's where the magic lies!