Marisa Rivera knew in high school that she wanted to come to the University of New Mexico. Her father was a graduate of the UNM School of Medicine and as a child she often visited his practice. But it wasn't until she was in college that her love of biology led her down the path to medicine.

During her senior year, Rivera applied to the Undergraduate Pipeline Network (UPN), a summer internship with a stipend,  and was one of 30 students selected out of 300 applicants. The program cultivates student interest in research while teaching skills needed to apply for and succeed in post-baccalaureate education.

Because of her interest in public health, Rivera mentored under Lisa Cacari-Stone. Cacari-Stone is director of the community engagement core at New Mexico Center for Advancement of Research, Engagement and Science (CARES) on Health Disparities, assistant professor at the Department of Family and Community Medicine and a senior research fellow with the Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy at UNM.

Rivera was excited to learn that Cacari-Stone was mentoring her work with the Programa de Investigaciónen Migración y Salud (PIMSA).  PIMSA funds binational teams whose research focuses on migration and health within current policy contexts. Cacari-Stone had just received a grant to research health disparities along the border region.

Rivera visited a colonias just outside of Las Cruces and saw the disparities facing residents in health care, housing and economics. Colonia means neighborhood in Spanish, but in the United States, it refers to the rural, unincorporated settlements along the U.S.-Mexico border characterized by substandard housing, inadequate roads, poor drainage and substandard or no water and sewer facilities.  The place reminded her of her father's childhood home.

"I just knew it as the place where my father grew up," Rivera said.  "I didn't see or understand the disparities until I was involved in this project. It was eye-opening to see another aspect of medicine and how health policies affect the individual – who seeks care, who doesn't and why." The experience cemented her commitment to medical school and to becoming a family practitioner.

Story by Nora Chavez

For more information about the NM CARES Health Disparities Center, our Speaker Series, Research Resources or the UPN, please contact Miria Kano at, at 505-272-3876, or check out the links below.