Voices of Making Waves text next to photos of Alison holding up her grad stole and celebrating with her mother
Alison Paxtor recently celebrated her graduation from California State University, East Bay
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Putting Passion into Practice and Advancing Health Equity with a Degree in Public Health

by Bonnie Shea

Making Waves Education Foundation » Stories » Putting Passion into Practice and Advancing Health Equity with a Degree in Public Health

Voices of Making Waves: Meet Alison Paxtor

Alison Paxtor became interested in health equity at a young age.

“Growing up in a predominantly Latino low-income neighborhood, I noticed many of the health inequities that my community faced. I’ve always seen those inequities,” she shared.

“After taking courses in public health and talking to professors about my interests in preventing health inequities, I realized that public health is my passion,” she shared.

With a newly minted Bachelor of Science degree in health sciences with a concentration in public health from California State University, East Bay, Alison has been putting her studies and her passion into action.

Alison Paxtor in grad cap and gown in front of East Bay sign
Alison in her cap and gown at Cal State East Bay

Most recently, Alison was accepted into a Health Career Connection program through which she is working on making healthcare more equitable and improving care for underserved communities at Kaiser Permanente in the Bay Area’s San Leandro.

“I am excited to make change and bring in my perspective as a Latina woman,” she shared.

Growing into the public health field

As Alison began taking public health courses at California State University, East Bay, she realized she wanted to gain as much experience in the field as possible.

Alison practiced interviewing, developed her resume and cover letters, and grew her confidence with support from her campus career center and from Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, the College and Alumni Program, or CAP, which provides scholarships and one-to-one coaching.

“I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” she shared about participating in the program. “My college experience was more stress free knowing that I had people there to help me out both financially and in life.”

“I feel that I’m a more confident person now,” shared Alison, who has been accepted into several internship programs throughout her college career, including Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC State Agency, in the Bay Area’s Canal neighborhood in Marin County.

“I really loved the internship and working directly with my community,” shared Alison, who credits this internship with providing her with experiences across public health and communications. She also leveraged her bilingual skills in creating and sharing resources in English and Spanish.

Advocating for underserved communities and continuing to learn

Later in her college career, through an organization called Together Toward Health, Alison was paired with a community-based organization in Richmond, California called Healthy Richmond, where she worked to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates and share resources. Next, Alison started an internship with the COVID-19 clinical team for the California Department of Public Health, where she worked on communications and resource materials for healthcare providers and the public.

“I was one of the few people of color on the team, so I always made sure to use my voice to advocate for others,” she shared.

“Using my bilingual skills, I always made sure that everything we were putting out was in English and Spanish. It makes me feel good knowing that more people can understand that information and are aware of what’s going on.”

“I was also always making sure that people who had lower health literacy levels understood. I think it’s important to always take everyone into account and understand everybody’s perspective and experience,” she said.

“Everyone is important; race, socioeconomic status, and language barriers should not be a reason why someone does not understand information that goes out to the public,” she said.

During her senior year, Alison won a scholarship to attend the American Public Health Association’s conference in Denver, Colorado, where she further expanded her knowledge on health disparities across the U.S.

“It felt surreal to be at a national conference learning with other public health professionals across the nation. As a first-generation Latina college student, I felt very accomplished,” she shared.

“I am always looking to learn more as there is still much change needed to happen in the field of public health,” she said.

Graduating with honors, celebrating with family, and expressing gratitude

Reflecting on her accomplishments in college – culminating in graduating with honors – Alison shared:

“Graduation was very emotional for my family. It was a huge milestone because I’m the first person to graduate from college in my family. They’ve seen how hard I’ve worked especially through the pandemic.”

“I was living at home and having to do my work on my bed because I didn’t have another space. They’ve seen everything I’ve been able to do and they’re very proud.”

“I also want to say that my college graduation is my mother’s accomplishment as well since she raised me and has been there for me. I’d like to share this with her and my family. Thank you,” she said.

“I’m happy to say I have an amazing support system. Thank you to all my loved ones,” shared Alison, who hopes her younger brother will follow her higher education path. “I think by him seeing me cross the stage, he’s more motivated to go to college. And now that I have some experience in college, I can help out with that.”

Alison Paxtor with her family at graduation
Alison (center) with her family at the Honors Convocation at CSU East Bay

“Thank you to every person who believed in me including the Public Health Department’s faculty at Cal State East Bay. I have gained valuable knowledge and experience. I have gained connections that are for a lifetime,” she said.

Alison Paxtor at Cal State East Bay graduation with faculty
Alison (fourth from the left) with public health faculty on graduation day

Knowing you’re not alone

Planning to continue her career in public health, Alison said: “I am excited for next steps. I have also been reflecting a lot on the hardships that I’ve had to deal with growing up.”

“Reaching college graduation is evidence for me that I can do anything and that I’m strong,” she said.

“I think as a first-generation student, mental health is not talked about enough. I felt that sometimes college was tough, and I had a lot of pressure on myself,” she shared.

In addition to her family and campus support system, Alison received support from her college coach at Making Waves Foundation. “I feel like you can talk about anything with your coach. We talked about academics but also about my life. That was important for me and that really helped me to do well in college,” she shared.

“I also want to say to other students: you’re not alone, even during hardship. You’re not alone and there are resources out there. Try to do things for yourself and practice self-care. Stay strong. You can do it.”

Once a Wave-Maker, always a Wave-Maker

As Alison transitions from Wave-Maker student to Wave-Maker alumni, she shared: “I feel good knowing that there’s something like 500 or 600 Wave-Maker alumni. I definitely plan to use this network. I’m glad I have the support still.”

“Alison has been such a great joy to work with these past three years,” Making Waves College Coach Ayasha Tripp shared. “I’ve admired and respected her ardent work ethic, undeniable resilience, and the commitment to excellence and growth she has demonstrated throughout her college journey. I look forward to seeing her make an impact in the field of public health.”

Alison talking with her college coach Ayasha
Alison (left) talking with Ayasha (right), her college coach from Making Waves Foundation, at Cal State East Bay

“I just feel so blessed to have [the Making Waves College and Alumni Program]. I’m almost speechless because they have been so great and made my college experience smoother. I’m just so happy and very grateful for everything they’ve done,” Alison shared.

This Voices of Making Waves storytelling series spotlights the voices and journeys of the students, alumni, teachers, coaches, and more members of our Making Waves Foundation and Making Waves Academy communities — and highlights our work in creating educational opportunities that change lives.


With a unique focus on college attendance and graduation, Making Waves Foundation supports historically underrepresented and underserved students in pursuing their dreams. Making Waves Academy is a public charter school in Richmond, California, educating more than 1,100 students and Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, provides coaching, scholarships, financial literacy, and career support for more than 500 college students as well as a network for more than 500 Wave-Maker alumni.