Misty Pacheco bring Hawaiian culture into public health research

Hawaiian native Misty Pacheco presented her public health research and understanding of the minority experience at the Otter Student Union Ballroom on April 19.

Hosted by the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, Dean Harald Barkhoff set the stage for the Diversity Celebration Series event, introducing the presentation by highlighting Pacheco’s talent as a world-class hula dancer – a detail her humble character rarely admits.

Pacheco led the discussion with a relaxed approach, sharing her story as the oldest of five children, life as a first-generation student, and recognizing the uncertainty young adults encounter in pursuing university education and post-graduate careers.

The college conversation was rarely present in Pacheco’s household, but after hearing from high school friends in the admissions process and discussing options with her parents, she started her applications.

Pacheco’s drive to educate herself stemmed from family; she wanted to be an example for her younger siblings, but she was still grappling with what path to take.

Becoming a pathologist was an early idea, and a strong passion for forensic files led her to select a degree in the sciences.

Although Pacheco received acceptance letters from every school she applied to, most university tuition was unaffordable.

Pacheco decided on Oregon State because of its less expensive Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) cost. It was an opportunity to get out of her comfort zone and venture out of Hawaii.

After working through general education courses and studying environmental science in Oregon, her interest shifted when she discovered the California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) forensic chemistry degree program.

Pacheco’s desire to push her limits persisted after completing her chemistry degree at CSUS. Leaving Hawaii was a challenge, but she wanted to take it further, to travel abroad and perform medical service outside of the United States.

Pacheco served as a Peace Corps public health volunteer in Kenya, developing projects in communities plagued with recurring civil war conflict, poor living conditions, no running water, and limited electricity.

During her time in Mombassa County, Pacheco developed a sexual reproductive initiative and an HIV prevention plan for women, a service that reinforced her passion for helping the most vulnerable.

Pacheco eventually returned to Hilo, Hawaii, to provide for her community, working as a health educator for the State of Hawaii Department of Health.

She collaborated with mentor and department chair Dr. Keawe’aimoku Kaholokula, who introduced her to the Na Pou Kiki indigenous framework, four corner posts that promote native health and social equity.

Na Pou Kiki’s pillars represent a hale, the building of a house fortified by constructs that support Native Hawaiian health.

The first corner post, Ke Ao ‘Ōiwi, involves fostering a culturally nurturing space, valuing Hawaiian people as a social group through the availability of resources like culturally-based public education.

Pacheco also shared the pillar of Ka Mālama ‘Āina, the benefit of creating stronger communities and safe, well-resourced areas providing opportunities for healthier lives.

Ka ‘Ai Pono and Ka Wai Ola are the final corner posts, advocating for access to affordable nutrition and livable wages through the encouragement of social justice.

Pacheco concluded her presentation by reminding the audience that data should tell a story. Researchers often forget the importance of community participation in the investigation process.

For future students looking to pursue a career in public health, the Na Pou Kiki is an effective tool for stimulating social equity.

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