University of New Mexico alumna Margarita Chavez has been selected as a 2014-15 Health Graduate Fellow by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) and helped lead a panel discussion at the institute’s recent conference in Washington D.C.

Chavez first learned of the CHCI Fellowship two years ago while in Washington, D.C. for a conference on Health Advocacy hosted by the Society for Public Health Education. The application deadline for the fellowship had just passed for that year, but Chavez jumped on the process the following year and submitted her application immediately.

“In doing my research, I noticed that many past fellows had come from Ivy League schools and I became intimidated,” Chavez said. “I thought ‘How am I, a South Valley girl going to be competitive?’ But it was my background as a South Valley girl that motivated me to apply in the first place. I would tell myself that I am a proud Latina Nueva Mexicana and that I could compete with students from Harvard and Stanford.”

When Chavez received word that she had been selected as a fellow, she felt very happy and proud. “I’m so honored to be in D.C. representing my family, my community and my university. To my knowledge, I am the first CHCI graduate fellow to be selected from UNM,” she said.

Chavez, who received her M.S. in community health education from UNM, is committed to working with New Mexico’s diverse communities in the public and private sectors. Her primary concentrations are public health assessment and advocacy, health promotion, chronic disease prevention, health equity, personal safety, traditional western medicine and holistic healthcare.

“I am on Capitol Hill today because of the influence and guidance of the many mentors I had at UNM during both my undergrad and graduate studies,” Chavez said. “Professor Christina Perry was a true inspiration, and I received great mentorship from professors Elias Duryea, Magdalena Avila and Elba Saavedra. I owe them all so much.”

Chavez is a 6th degree black belt and has taught Kajukembo Karate, Jiu-Jitsu and fitness and nutrition programs in the martial arts school owned by her parents. She has volunteered for numerous organizations including Comadre a Comadre, a local breast cancer patient advocate organization and Casa de Salud, a health and wellness clinic serving the underprivileged and uninsured in her community.

As a CHCI Graduate Health Fellow, Chavez wants to expand her knowledge of health policy and make a positive impact on health policy reform. As a New Mexicans, she wants to learn more about resources available to the underserved in her community that will allow them to access affordable health education and health care services. “I will lead by the example my parents have set, that is, achieving higher education goals, successful and long lived business ownership and being a strong and critical component of the community,” Chavez said.

CHCI’s Graduate Fellowship Program helps increase the number of Latino leaders in policy areas in which they are traditionally underrepresented. It provides exceptional Latino college graduates and young Latino professionals from across the country unparalleled opportunity for professional experience in the public policy arenas of education, health, housing, international affairs, law and the STEM fields. It also offers a chance to participate in CHCI’s nationally acclaimed leadership development training program including research and publication of a public policy paper about a public policy issue in their chosen field. These policy papers are presented an audience of key public and private sector leaders on Capitol Hill each spring. CHCI also offers corporate sponsors the opportunity to offer company-based fellowships following students’ successful completion of CHCI’s Graduate Fellowship Program.