For Emily Ha, who graduated in 2021 with a double major in Business Economics and Public Health Policy, UCI offered a world of opportunities that she was excited to take advantage of. Over her four years, Emily participated in an extensive array of organizations and programs both on campus and in the local community. “I feel like I touched almost every resource that was on campus,” she laughed before recounting an impressive list of accomplishments.

At UCI, Emily served as Academic Engagement Chair and Ambassador for the School of Social Sciences’ Dean’s Ambassadors Council; worked as Academic Community Excellence Programmer for Mesa Court Housing; and participated in several internships, including positions at UCI Douglas Hospital and the American Heart Association. She also worked with UCI’s Office of Campus Organizations to establish the Prison Education Project, where she served as UCI Chapter President and Lead Volunteer. Emily studied abroad in Singapore, worked with UCI’s Scholarship Opportunities Program, and was a semi-finalist for the prestigious California Capital Fellows Program and the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award.

Emily found a research mentor and support system in Dr. Judy Wu, UCI professor of Asian American Studies and Director of the Humanities Center. Dr. Wu introduced Emily to Humanities research and also offered guidance as she explored other research opportunities. Emily served as a Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences’ Summer Academic Enrichment Program, a research assistant for the Department of Sociology, and a research intern at the Social Epidemiology and Research in Community Health Lab. Emily even led and secured funding for her own research project as a participant in UCI’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and its associated Summer Undergraduate Research Program.

Looking at everything she did while at UCI, it’s easy to assume that Emily came into UCI with a clear idea of what she wanted to do and a plan of attack. However, like many other students, Emily explains that this was far from the truth.

“I’m a first-generation college student. My parents never went to college, so I didn’t really know what college was like until I stepped foot on campus. The most I knew about college was what I saw in the movies. So when I first arrived, I was a little nervous and confused about what I was supposed to do and what direction I was heading.”

Initially, Emily applied as a Business Economics major, hoping to work in finance after she graduated. “It was the American dream to have an office job because both of my parents work blue-collar jobs, “ she says. “I just wanted a nice office job that paid a lot, and the finance route seemed like the best option for me.”

However, her perspective began to change as she acclimated to campus and began exploring all the different programs, initiatives, and opportunities available to her. Taking inspiration from Shonda Rhimes’ book Year of Yes, Emily decided that she would push herself and make the most of her time at UCI. 

“I didn’t want to limit myself, so I decided I was going to say yes to any opportunity that I thought I would grow in,” she explains. “I got rid of that negative mindset that tells you ‘you can’t do it’ and just took risks. I think that all the resources and experiences I’ve had are because I decided to believe in myself.”

By challenging herself to branch out, Emily discovered her true passions, and her dreams for the future grew beyond seeking stability in the finance sector. 

“I realized that I wasn’t really in it for the money anymore—I wanted to do something with mission and impact. And so I decided to pick up public health policy as my second major and fell in love with the work. I even ended up pursuing public health as my career.”

Emily currently works at the University of Michigan as a program coordinator and public health researcher for the EMBRace Program. She explains that the EMBRace program helps Black families and youth cope with racial stressors. EMBRace’s goal is to reduce parent and adolescent racial stress, promote familial bonding, and improve psychological well-being. Emily is passionate about the project, and her research focuses on how reducing racial stressors leads to improved health outcomes. She hopes that her work will support the program as it continues to expand. 

Looking back and considering how different her life would have been if she hadn’t taken a chance on Public Health, Emily is thankful that she pushed herself to take risks and step outside of her comfort zone. She advises current UCI students to do the same:

“I would recommend for incoming and current UCI students to just take a chance on yourself and believe in yourself. Apply to different opportunities, and take those risks even if you feel like you don’t belong in a certain space. Believe in yourself and people will notice your confidence. My piece of advice is to make the most out of your experience by saying yes.”

To read more UCI alumni stories, click here. To hear UCI students and alumni talk about their experiences and share their insights, check out the We Are UCI podcast here.