Being away from family, losing a beloved grandmother to COVID-19 and finding her place at the state’s largest university are among the many challenges Lynsey Pinto, 22, faced during her undergraduate years.
Through her perseverance and her family’s support, Pinto will graduate this May with a bachelor of science degree from The University of New Mexico College of Population Health. She double majored in population health and political science.
She hopes her newly gained education will lead her to a career in community health that improves the lives of people living on the Navajo Nation.
Pinto, who grew up in Fruitland, a small town in northwestern New Mexico, says improving health care and advocating for social justice became her passion during her time at UNM.
“It was important for me to (learn how to) somehow fix that connection or just fix the relationship that my family had with health care, making it possible for everyone to have good health and just improve their well-being.” – Lynsey Pinto, Class of 2021
Tammy Thomas, director of undergraduate education for the College of Population Health, who considers Pinto to be an inspiring graduate, says Pinto took two of her classes this year.
“She’s incredibly dedicated to her education and so thoughtful in everything she does,” Thomas says. “I know she’s going to have a bright future. She’s going to do great things in the community.”
Pinto recalls having to go to Indian Health Service clinics whenever she or a family member was sick, and they found visits to be an unwelcome hassle.
“It was important for me to (learn how to) somehow fix that connection or just fix the relationship that my family had with health care, making it possible for everyone to have good health and just improve their well-being,” she says.
Pinto’s deep family roots and connections, especially to her grandmothers, gave her a strong foundation, she says. So when the Navajo Nation was on lockdown due to the pandemic, she found being away from home really difficult. And then she lost her paternal grandmother to COVID-19.
“The love that she shared for us was everything, and I feel like that relates to population health and well-being in general,” Pinto says.
She would not be where she is today, she says, without support from family and friends. “Something that everyone should have is a good social support system,” she says.
“My parents are more behind-the-scenes, but they had a big role in getting me here so I could focus, never having to worry about a place to stay or having food,” Pinto says. “The sacrifices they’ve made for me is everything. The love they have for me (is everything). I’m so grateful for them.”
When Pinto arrived in Albuquerque, she experienced nothing short of complete culture shock. She wondered if she’d ever fit in, if she’d ever find her place in such an institution.
“At first, I stood back,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to be noticed. It was so new to me. Something that I've had to overcome is just realizing that I'm worthy of taking up these spaces and that I belong here and that I worked really hard to come here.”
Her advice to students who may be struggling or questioning whether they should give up: “Just really trust that you have a right to be here, that you've worked really hard to get here, and you are working really hard to stay here, and even if it's not always seen by the people around you, just trust in the value that you contribute.”