student Spotlight

December Student Spotlight with Joanne Hernandez, MPA '16

December 2015 Student Spotlight

Genuine empathy for underserved populations is a cornerstone of how the School of Public Affairs' fosters aspirations. Joanne Hernandez tells us about her idea for ensuring regulation for the Affordable Care Act, her experiences as a volunteer for the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America, and her time in the MPA in Health Care Policy program.

Your career interests lie in advocating for reproductive justice for low-income women and you hope to create and reform public policies. What ideas do you have for new or newly augmented policies?
To begin, my career interests in advocating to expand women's reproductive rights initially began during my undergraduate in New York University. As a pre-med student and volunteer in NYU's Medical Center Department of Pediatrics, I first became exposed to how skewed and broken the health care system was. After taking a graduate course focused on public policy and coming to the realization I no longer wanted to be a doctor, I decided to pursue a career in public policy with a focus on women's healthcare.

Since graduating from NYU in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has since been established and thankfully millions of women who otherwise would have no health insurance are now able to secure necessary coverage. However, even with the ACA implementation, women are still reporting health care plan violations regarding access to birth control. One idea I had in augmenting this policy, would be for state legislatures to pass legislation where state regulators are required to create oversight committees to ensure health plans are implemented correctly and information is disseminated appropriately.

You're a volunteer for the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America. What are some of the most profound experiences you've had with them?
I first was introduced to the National Organization for Women (NOW) and NARAL Pro-Choice America approximately two years ago. Originally, I sought out volunteer opportunities at NOW and began by attending monthly sessions where various issues affecting women in New York were discussed. However, during one of these monthly meetings, it was announced that NOW and several other women's rights organizations would be participating in a day-long action in Albany, NY called Lobby Day.

I immediately jumped on the opportunity, and I am incredibly happy that I did. Lobby Day was a profound experience for me, because for the first time I took action for what I believed in, and that was expanding women's rights in the state of New York. It was during Lobby Day that I was then introduced to NARAL Pro-Choice America and was pushed further to seek out volunteer opportunities with them, which then led to another profound experience.

Last November, during the midterm elections I had the chance to help get out the vote by participating in phone banking events. Because last November was not a presidential election, I was advocating for local pro-choice politicians and it was during the various phone calls I conducted speaking with constituents that I first got a sense of the importance of the relationship between policy makers and their constituents.

Tell us about your experience in the MPA in Health Care Policy program so far; how is this track helping you achieve your personal and professional aspirations?
Three years ago, before beginning the MPA in Health Care Policy program, I had no concrete plan on achieving my personal and professional goals. I knew I wanted to work in women's reproductive rights but was unsure in what capacity or what role I could inhabit where I felt I was making a difference.

Since beginning my program, I have been gifted the necessary tools to not only understand how public policies are created and reformed but I have also been given the opportunity to see that in real time. One of the ways that the program has helped me in achieving these goals is by offering the Washington in DC semester (TWS).

I first became aware of TWS about a year ago when Distinguished Lecturer, Michael Feller along with a few alumni of the program held an open house. At the time I was working full-time in a position that was unrelated to my career interests, which inhibited me to fully immerse myself in the women's healthcare world, but with TWS that has since changed.

Currently, I am interning with the National Women's Law Center in the Outreach department with a focus on women's health and reproductive rights. At the same time, the two classes offered, Political Dynamics with Distinguished Lecturer, Sonia Jarvis and Who Makes Policy? with Clinical Professor, Carla Robbins have proven to be incredibly helpful in not only understanding the daily jargon of DC life but also the political mechanisms that directly affect the organization and the work we do.