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When Bay Area Schweitzer Fellow Charlene Rocha was growing up, she viewed science as something intimidating. None of her family or friends had pursued higher education in the health or science realms.

But Rocha was determined to be the first.

And now, as a Schweitzer Fellow and a student at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)  School of Dentistry, Rocha is working to ensure that underserved middle-schoolers perceive a career in science and medicine as something that’s attainable.

“My project [focuses on] teaching science to the underserved population, middle-school-aged children, with a focus on hands-on projects in hopes to excite them about the field of science,” Rocha says in the UCSF School of Dentistry video at the top of this post. “The more global picture is to excite them to the point where they are interested to pursue science in college … and to get more underserved and minority students interested in pursuing the health field.”

To that end, Rocha has developed The Junior Science Investigators Program (JSIP),  which aims to raise scientific competency among low income and other underprivileged students who have traditionally underperformed in the natural sciences.

She has modeled the program on her own path from middle school, to community college, to the UCSF School of Dentistry.

“I was one of those kids who was intimidated by science,” she says in the video, adding that it took four years at a community college to find her scientific footing and develop the tools — and confidence — she needed to pursue a health-related career.

Now that she’s well on her way, Rocha is determined to keep giving back.

“One thing with the Schweitzer Fellowship is that you’re a Fellow for Life,” Rocha says. “That’s something that I’ll always carry on with me … wherever my career path leads me, I always see working with the community as one aspect of my life I don’t plan to ever change.”

“I think this is something that I need for myself,” she adds of working with underserved and minority students. “It brings me joy to be able to work with that population and make a difference.”

The Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows Program was founded in 2006 with major funding from Anthem Blue Cross Foundation and The University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health. Rocha is one of this year’s 15 Bay Area Schweitzer Fellows, each selected from the Bay Area’s top colleges and universities to partner with a local agency and design a service project that addresses unmet health needs in the area.