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Alumna accepted into prestigious fellowship

While a senior in high school, College of Idaho graduate Aliza Auces ’16 juggled the usual schoolwork and a job. But in her free time, she spent every minute beside her beloved grandfather in the hospital—especially during his final two weeks. The man, who emigrated from Mexico to Caldwell, Idaho, was a source of support, inspiration, and wisdom in her life.

When Auces told him she wanted to be a doctor, at the age of seven, he kindly gave advice to guide that goal.

“He definitely told me not to forget everyone else, your community and your family…and to help as many people as you can,” she said. “Paying it forward is something I really believe in.”

That’s why Auces wishes to become a physician, to work one-on-one patients, and to advocate for minority patients in the medical community. That’s also why she applied and was accepted for a fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) in our nation’s capital. Auces is only the second Idahoan to become a CHCI Fellow. The other is fellow C of I graduate Lorenzo Olvera ’07.

“Having become more enlightened about how health public policy impacts the medical field and specifically Idaho patients, I applied to CHCI to understand more about public policy and the process of policy creation,” Auces said.

For nearly 40 years, the CHCI has created a pathway to educate, empower and connect America’s future Latino leaders through programs that explore public policy and leadership. Out of the 19 students accepted in the nine-month program this year, Auces is the only health and public policy fellow.

During the fellowship, Auces will work in both private and public sectors. This fall, Auces has been placed within the Association of American Medical Colleges. She works in the office of government relations and public policy, taking over social media accounts and attending congressional briefings that could affect health policies. In the spring, she hopes to work on Capitol Hill with U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz of California, who is also a medical doctor.

Throughout her life, Auces has had a community of support to help her achieve her goals. Her mother, a first-generation American who earned a business and accounting degree, inspired Auces to strive further and believe in herself. And of course, there is her grandfather, whose picture Auces always carries.

But those aren’t her only influences. At The College of Idaho, everyone from classmates and admission counselors to professors and alumni have fueled the flame burning inside her. And as they have given to her, Auces wants to give back to others.

But she almost didn’t become a Yote. A week before classes began for her freshman year, she wasn’t even enrolled.

C of I Bound

A graduate of Columbia High School in Nampa, Auces remembers the day C of I Associate Director of Admission Mike Burdine showed up on campus. Burdine tried to give her an application. She respectfully declined. Auces had been accepted into the University of Washington. But she conceded to take his business card.

As summer waned, Auces realized going to Washington was not financially feasible. With one week before classes started at the C of I, she found that business card and called Burdine. That set the wheels in motion to get Auces registered and have her financial-aid benefits maximized.

“Mike Burdine—I’m always going to be so thankful to him,” Auces said. “It was a really close call, but I’m really happy I got in. I don’t think I would have gotten this experience and be where I am now without the C of I.”

Fueling the fire

During her four years in Caldwell, Auces continued to find support—and give it—around every corner. Her classmates helped her get into the Summer Health Professions Education Program at the University of Washington. After learning that research experience helped in applying to medical school, she applied to and was accepted into the lab of Biology Professor Luke Daniels.

Auces had always stood out to Daniels. He remembers one day in class during her freshman year. She was paired up with a less-experienced biology student. At the end of class, she could have packed her bag and left. But she stayed behind to help her fellow Yote understand the concepts covered in class.

“That stuck out to me early on that she was a really kind person, willing to help out and be selfless,” Daniels said.

Auces also traveled abroad with Daniels, as he led a month-long Spanish for Healthcare Practitioners trip to Ecuador with his sister, C of I Spanish Professor Jennie Daniels.

The trip was the best of both worlds for Auces, a health science and Spanish double major, as she learned medical Spanish and saw how the Ecuadorian healthcare system worked. Her time abroad only fueled the desire to become a Latino medical doctor, and one day join Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian aid non-governmental organization.

“I couldn’t think of any opportunity that would have been better in undergrad,” she said.

Public policy impacts

Upon returning stateside, Auces began interning as a medical scribe with Idaho Emergency Physicians, working with physicians like alumnus Dr. Brian Reynolds ’93.

The two worked busy shifts, seeing 20-25 patients per day. As Reynolds visited with patients and asked them questions, Eliza would fill out their medical chart. Patients ranged from infants to 100-year-olds, and symptoms encompassed everything from runny noses to heart attacks.

Between patients, Reynolds and Auces discussed how public policy affects practicing medicine. When Auces decided to apply for CHCI, Reynolds readily wrote her a reference letter.

“What I came to understand, towards the end of my undergraduate studies, was how health public policy greatly impacts health disparities, physicians, hospital policies, etc.,” Auces said. “Working as a medical scribe part-time during my senior year very much allowed me the opportunity to witness first-hand how current health policies affect Idaho patients in the emergency room and other medical fields.

Many people go into medical school with “blinders on,” Reynolds said, not realizing how public policy impacts the medical field. He predicted Auces will become a better-rounded physician through her fellowship with CHCI.

“It would be nice if the people making policy were physicians and getting physicians involved early on in the process,” Reynolds said. “Hopefully, that is what Aliza is helping to do.”

Onward to Capitol Hill

Studying public policy wasn’t quite what Auces was looking for when she met with C of I history professor Mee-Ae Kim to talk about scholarship programs. She wanted to do something medical related. That’s when Kim suggested advocating for patients and being a voice for them.

“I gave it more thought, and was like, ‘yeah, that’s what I want to do,’” Auces said.

Kim turned to C of I political economy professor Jasper LiCalzi, who connected Auces with alumnus Lorenzo Olvera ’07. Olvera, who is the deputy White House liaison and special projects manager for the United States Department of Energy, was the first Idahoan accepted into CHCI in 2008.

Interning with Representative Xavier Becerra of California while at CHCI, Olvera was hired onto the representative’s staff halfway through his fellowship.

Just like Auces, Olvera credits the C of I community for helping him go to college, graduate, and get in CHCI. Arnold Hernandez, C of I director of multicultural affairs, helped him apply and figure out how to make college work financially. And it was LiCalzi, his mentor, who helped guide him along the political economy path and graduate.

“You don’t get these opportunities, you don’t get to where I am right now without being helped by a lot of folks,” Olvera said.

Upon meeting with Auces for coffee, Olvera knew she had a unique angle and a good shot at getting into CHCI.

“A lot of people say, ‘hey I want to be a doctor.’” Olvera said. “But not a lot say ‘I want to be a doctor and understand public policy.’”

Olvera told Auces the requirements for getting into the program, what the committee would be looking for, and helped her with application materials.  

Auces painstakingly went through elimination rounds. The chances seemed astronomical. Only about 20 students would be accepted from 600 applicants. But while on vacation in California, she received the long awaited call—she’d been accepted.

“I could not believe it,” Auces said. “I think I said that five or six times.”

Possibilities abound

Though she’s only been in D.C a few months, Auces has enjoyed the electric atmosphere in the nation’s capital during the height of a presidential election. She’s met President Barack Obama and traded business cards with congressmen and women. She’s networked with medical researchers and physicians. She’s talked to representatives from well-known medical schools.

“I have this feeling that I’m a part of this group of physicians, though I’m not there yet,” Auces said.

As the fall days pass by, Auces eyes open ever wider. Her world has changed as she sees the future is limitless. That realization hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been shaped through the help of family and YoteFam members; a community that bleeds purple and, more importantly, sticks together.

“It’s the people that have helped me and impacted me so that I’ve [gotten into CHCI],” Auces said.

And she can’t wait to give back. To help the next C of I student get into CHCI. To help a patient in need.

To pay it forward.

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.