Without a doubt, UNM-Taos pre-science freshman Sydnie Pino was nervous as she stood alone at a podium for the first time in her young life — waiting, for what seemed like an eternity, for the large crowd to settle in and the lights to dim. But her reasons for being there, her passion for health equity, and her determination to nail the presentation loosened her vocal cords and slowed her heart rate. 

“It was a little intimidating,” she said.

Pino, one of the Indigenous students who traveled from New Mexico, shared her perspectives last month with public health leaders from across the country at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in Denver – the largest public health conference in the nation. The team from New Mexico presented on the topics of “Indigenous Health During COVID: What We Know, What We Can Learn,” a virtual youth health equity summit, and the Running Medicine program. A film created by team members on mental health challenges arising from the pandemic was included in the APHA Film Festival.

Pino presented three times — two in person and one via Zoom. She presented on mental health during COVID and the virtual health equity summit that she and other young leaders put together in February.

“It was a huge deal,” she said. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were able to listen in on presentations given by various health professionals from around the world — an experience to remember for sure.”

In her presentations, Pino discussed social determinants such as ethnicity, social class, environment and education, all of which affect how people receive healthcare.

“Indian health services are available, but sometimes it’s difficult to receive healthcare because of a significant lack of funding,” she said.

Her 2020 senior honors project focused on health equity concerning low-income Native communities. After obtaining her pre-science associate degree at UNM-Taos, she plans on getting a master’s degree in nursing from UNM in Albuquerque.