New Allied Health Academy Lifts Students and Communities

Angela Corro
Allied Health Academy student Angela Corro

Angela Corro isn’t afraid of heavy lifting. The Health Science junior spent her summer helping low income families find affordable housing, jobs, and other services through an internship with upstart nonprofit, LIFT Los Angeles. Two years ago, she lifted herself out of a burning bus.

Corro is part of the College of Health and Human Development’s new Allied Health Academy, a multifaceted program designed to help close the health disparities gap among minority groups by funneling underrepresented students into allied health professions. The Academy provides resources and services to underserved students in various stages of their academic careers, from students starting their junior year of high school to those completing graduate school applications. Internship stipends are provided for Academy students on campus.

It isn’t the first time Corro has helped lift others. A childhood set in Los Angeles’ Westlake District — a densely populated area with a rich history of community organizing — would mobilize the young activist early on. Before her senior prom arrived, Corro collected signatures for legislation reform for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and tutored children at the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Youth and Community Center.

“Even in high school, I recognized the cycle. I knew that if I didn’t stand up for people, that no one was going to stand up for us,” says Corro.

A fiery collision fueled her resolve.

AHA's first cohort
The Academy's first student cohort at
Cal State Fullerton.

On April 10, 2014, Corro and dozens of college hopefuls from low income neighborhoods throughout LA County boarded three buses headed for Humboldt State University. Some would never arrive. A FedEx truck carrying two 28-foot trailers slammed head-on into the bus carrying Corro and 43 other students. Nine people died at the scene. Corro escaped the wreckage with two chipped teeth, multiple contusions, and a burn injury to her esophagus. The crash still glows in her mind.

“All of us on that bus were first generation college students. Even the chaperones. My friend that died that day, the people that lost their lives that day, are my greatest motivation to help my community,” says Corro.

Closing the Health Disparities Gap Through Workforce Diversity

The goal of the Allied Health Academy is to increase the diversity of allied health practitioners by creating a pipeline of underrepresented students into careers in counseling, occupational therapy, social work, and other allied health professions.  Academy students, like Corro, will offer culturally appropriate services to Orange County’s ethnic population who, due to an array of complex and interrelated factors — socioeconomic status, physical and social environment, individual behavior, to name a few — suffer higher incidences of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other morbidities. The Academy’s programs are carried out in partnership with the Anaheim Unified High School District, Cypress College, the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community (OCAPICA), UC Irvine, and other organizations.

The pipeline begins at Anaheim’s Magnolia High School, where guest speakers, trips to local healthcare agencies, and a medical careers course supplement the program’s core mentoring, tutoring, and college prep services. Academy students at Cypress Community College explore graduate-level careers and receive guidance for transferring into Cal State Fullerton. Once they arrive on campus, students zero in on a career path with the help of a specialized course, mentoring from faculty and peers, paid internships, and monthly career exploration events. Academic advising, free GRE test preparation, and assistance with graduate school applications round out the program.

The Allied Health Academy’s comprehensive, multifaceted approach is designed to increase student retention and graduation rates across all levels.

Corro hopes to take her cause to new heights with the help of a Masters of Public Health.  Reflecting on her future, Corro says “Helping people out of poverty is what I am destined to do. Every single human being on this planet has the right to a roof over their head, shoes on their feet, and a good school to learn from.”