Seventeen days shy of receiving her public health degree, Kelsey Gonzalez ’21 was diagnosed with stage 2A Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

“Despite the emotional and physical difficulties of the treatment, I refused to let this disease take control of my life,” says Gonzalez, the first in her family to graduate from college. “What’s more, I have used it to fuel my passion for working in the public health field.” 

During treatment, she was reminded of what she learned in class: Access to excellent health care is a privilege that not all can depend upon. 

“I was fortunate for the care I received,” she says, “but it begged the question of what if excellent health care for all wasn’t a reflection of race, socioeconomic status or location.” 

This led her to pursue a position caring for asylum seekers at the U.S. and Mexico border. In her role as program manager for Global Disaster Response and Humanitarian Action at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health, Gonzalez works with partner NGOs to provide emergency humanitarian medicine to refugees living in makeshift refugee camps in Reynosa and Matamoros in Mexico.  

Under a U.S. policy that prohibits asylum seekers from entering the U.S. until their claims are processed in court, thousands are awaiting immigration proceedings in crowded shelters, makeshift camps or on the streets. 

“Working on the border has further opened my eyes to how much advancement is needed at a global scale to improve the quality of life of vulnerable populations,” she says, adding that her experiences at UML formed the foundation of her desire to help others. 

During her junior year, Gonzalez traveled to Valencia, Spain, to work with an NGO that defends migrant rights and their access to citizenship. She collaborated with a team to design and implement health education programs. 

And to better understand the role of culture on mental health stigma, she conducted an honors research project in her senior year investigating mental health disparities among first-generation students. 

“God put me exactly where I needed to be,” she says. “The people that I met and am blessed to know are what made my time at UML an incredible experience.”