Health care diversity program offers students inspirational insights, leadership lessons

August 30, 2017

Professor LaVonna Lewis, right, led the 16th annual USC Diversity in Healthcare Leadership Initiative Summer Enrichment Program. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan) More photos available on Flickr »

By Matthew Kredell

The USC Diversity in Healthcare Leadership Initiative Summer Enrichment Program (SEP) – under the direction of USC Price School of Public Policy Professor LaVonna Lewis – held its 16th annual week-long seminar to introduce students to the myriad career options in health administration.


Students visited the American Heart Association office in downtown L.A. with Price alum and AHA Vice President of Advocacy Eric Batch. (Photo courtesy of Eric Batch)

This year’s program hosted 26 people interested in exploring the breadth and depth of the field of health administration. Most were undergraduate students or recent graduates from Southern California, while some came from as far away as New York and South Carolina. Three students attended from the University of Texas at Austin, and two high school students also participated.

“Most students have no idea what a career in health administration looks like,” said Lewis, the director of diversity and inclusion initiatives at the Price School. “All the pieces of the program are designed to give them a sense of what are the points of entry to a career in health administration, and also what it takes to navigate that space.”

The program included field trips to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health, Keck Hospital of USC, the Downtown Women’s Center and the American Heart Association. All of the site visits, with the exception of the visit to the Downtown Women’s Center, were hosted by USC Price alumni.

‘Open doors and opportunities’

Students participated in a collaborative activity during their visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan) More photos available on Flickr »

Kalesi Corbin, who went through SEP in 2012 before earning a Master of Health Administration degree from USC Price in 2015, led a site visit of his workplace, L.A. Care Health Plan, where he serves as health care compliance advisor.

At the company’s downtown headquarters, Corbin introduced the students to the CEO and then put them in a roundtable Q&A session with five diverse leaders throughout management to talk about their positions and how they got there.


Kalesi Corbin MHA ’15, left, of L.A. Care Health Plan took part in a panel at Lewis Hall. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

“Since the program is called diversity in health care leadership, my interest for the site visit was to show students our diverse management and staff,” Corbin said. “I wanted to show them that you can make it through the program and transition to a good role in the organization.”

Corbin’s introduction to L.A. Care was on a site visit during his SEP experience. He started working for the company while pursuing his MHA degree. Leading his own site visit, he added another facet by also bringing the group to the Boyle Heights Family Resource Center, so they see what services the company provides to the community.

“I enjoyed connecting with the students, because some are immigrants as I am,” said Corbin, who came to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago at the age of 10. “Some also come from low-income backgrounds. I wanted to be an example to them of how this program can open doors and opportunities for you.”

Inspirational experience

Students helped cook lunch and sort donated clothes at the Downtown Women’s Center (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan) More photos available on Flickr »

Students also heard from Sarah Esquivel, USC Price associate director of recruitment and admissions, on applying to college and graduate school.

Samika Ramirez, right, with Jeff Nguyen (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

There were two panel discussions featuring USC Price or SEP alumni and students, including Samika Ramirez, a senior managerial consultant for Kaiser Permanente who participated in the inaugural SEP in 2002.

“Being surrounded by people my own age, with so many career aspirations, was so inspiring. And hearing from people who graduated from USC and are now making big changes in the world made me feel like I can make an impact influencing people in the community I care about,” said Nana Sarkodee-Adoo, who completed her bachelor’s degree from USC Price in 2017, and spent the summer working with Professor Lewis as a health equity fellow.

Sarkodee-Adoo was planning to continue on to the MPA program, but while attending USC Price, she was drawn to the health field after realizing the far-reaching impact that health has on equity and people’s wellbeing. She currently works as a trauma case manager at St. Francis Medical Center, and hopes to pursue graduate school in the near future.

“I never thought about health care as a field that had so many different positions,” Sarkodee-Adoo said. “Talking to people who work in so many different areas showed me this is something I can work in the rest of my life and get something new out of every single day.”

Innovative thought

Price Career Services Director Valerie Savior consults with students. (Photo by Deirdre Flanagan)

In addition to the site visits and discussions, Lewis implemented a new feature this year with problem-solving exercises to give participants a better sense of the types of issues they would be dealing with, as health administration professionals.

One exercise on the social determinants of health broke the cohort into small groups to identify the negative health factors in various service planning areas of Los Angeles County. They also analyzed specific challenges faced by different neighborhoods, such as violence as a public health issue.

“We wanted to get them thinking about what they would do, instead of listening to people talk about what they do, day in and day out,” Lewis said. “The goal of the program is to give people the opportunity to see themselves in that space and the issues with which they will be wrestling.”