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Alumni Profile: Marina Marmolejo, M.P.H. ’19 (Social and Behavioral Sciences)

December 03, 2021

Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS), M.P.H. ’19
Program Manager, UniteCT
Founder DreamKit

What is your current job?

Program Manager for UniteCT, Connecticut's Emergency Rental Assistance Program hosted by the Department of Housing.

Describe your work and why you find it rewarding/challenging.

I currently manage a $400 million rental assistance program for Connecticut residents financially impacted by COVID-19. One of the most valuable parts of my job is ensuring that our fully online application is accessible to communities that do not have equitable access to technology. By recognizing the impacts of the digital divide, I work to ensure marginalized (yet incredibly resilient) communities have the tools to apply for rental assistance, and hopefully regain their housing stability. Through a government lens, I find it deeply exciting to sit at the forefront of moving all statewide applications to an online platform and creating space to have critical conversations about technological advances and the need to ensure our neighbors have equal opportunities.

How did YSPH prepare you for your current work?

Before I started working for the Department of Housing, I created an app-based non-profit called DreamKit that taught job skills to youth experiencing homelessness and paid them for their progress. The idea for DreamKit started when I was at YSPH. I was given the intellectual playground to explore the beginnings of DreamKit with the support of my mentor, Dr. Yusuf Ransome. Through my coursework, I also gained the practical skills I needed to work with communities directly. From data management to qualitative research design and stakeholder engagement, I learned both the management and data analysis skills needed to start an organization centered in public health and tech-equity.

Do you have a favorite YSPH experience you can share?

This is so nerdy, but Thesis Day was one of my favorite memories at YSPH. I spent over a year collecting and analyzing data around food insecurity and food acquisition strategies within the homeless youth community. My thesis presentation was thus a celebration of the new knowledge I was adding to the field. It was a beautiful moment to create more space at YSPH to have new conversations about the resiliency, creativity, and tenacity of youth experiencing homelessness.

What advice do you have for current students?

You have the power to redefine public health for yourself, future employers, and truly society at large - be bold and live your truth! I say this from direct experience. I am actively carving out a place for myself in the industry that emphasizes the intersection of technology and social justice. During my training, I did not see many examples of technology-based interventions that centered the feedback and leadership of folks with lived experience. Thus, I created an organization and now work statewide to ensure this hyper-specific field of public health is appreciated, practiced, and replicated.

Were there any faculty or staff mentors who influenced your YSPH experience?

Dr. Yusuf Ransome is the single reason why I had enough confidence to stay in New Haven and incorporate DreamKit as an official nonprofit after graduating from YSPH. He cheered me on at pitch competitions, hosted brainstorming sessions and provided me with the emotional support I needed to continue building DreamKit. Dr. Danya Keene was not only my advisor and mentor, but she helped build my understanding of housing as a public health crisis.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on December 03, 2021