Hispanic Lifestyle is pleased to recognize Dr. Denise Diaz Payán, Ph.D., M.P.P., an Assistant Professor of Public Health in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at the University of California, Merced as 2021 Latina of Influence. She is the principal investigator of the Community Health & Innovative Policy (CHIP) Lab at UC Merced and is currently Deputy Director of the state-wide research translation center known as the California Initiative for Health Equity & Action.
Dr. Payán is a health policy researcher whose interests include examining the health policymaking process; evaluating interventions to address obesity and nutrition-related health disparities; and understanding how policy impacts health behavior. She also conducts state and local policy surveillance research. Dr. Payán has collaborated on process and impact evaluations and contributed to community-based participatory research projects implemented in a variety of settings, including schools, faith-based organizations, safety net clinics, and academic medical centers. Dr. Payan’s research is both domestic and international, as she has collaborated on multiple publications with a global focus. She is affiliated with the Health Sciences Research Institute and the Nicotine and Cannabis Policy Center at UC Merced, and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute.
Dr. Payán obtained a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Management from the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.P.P. from Harvard Kennedy School. She received a B.A. in History and Science, a Certificate in Health Policy, and a Citation in Spanish from Harvard College. Prior to coming to UC Merced, she was a Health Services Research post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Health Policy and Management at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and the RAND Corporation.
As the Deputy Director for the California Initiative for Health Equity & Action, Dr. Denise Payan serves as a critical link between the state and the translation of health policy and public health research generated by University of California to improve health equity. She advocates diligently for minority groups, so they have access to quality care and improved health outcomes by bringing attention to issues, such as obesity and nutrition-related health disparities, so such conversations are front and center at the state level. She is a change maker in her field—influencing change in academic and at the state level.
As a tenure tracked professor within the University of California system at the University of California Merced, Dr. Denise Payan works passionately to advance the health policy agenda via research and instructs students so they can also be change makers. She serves as an inspiration for students from underrepresented minority (URM) groups, such as Latino and African American background. Faculty representation for students is important; “seeing” someone who looks like them matter, but the number of minority faculty is not high in academia. As of Fall 2018, only 11% of UC Merced faculty were from Latino backgrounds—and Dr. Denise Payan was one of them.
Dr. Denise Payan is also investing in the next generation of our “gente”—influencing young adults to believe in themselves and equipping them with the tools to succeed. She has a heart for underrepresented students—as a professor at UC Merced, where 55.5% of the student body is Latino and many are 1st generation college students from farm worker families, she has multiple mentees at the undergraduate and graduate level whom she has sponsors in their academic journey. Dr. Denise Payan is the lead Principal Investigator of the Community Health & Innovative Policy (CHIP) Lab at UC Merced; the students who conduct research under her lab are also “taken under her wing” as she personally invests in their success through mentorship. But she does more than mentor students, she prepares her classes with “real world,” practical skills to succeed in academia and the workplace.
While a graduate student at Harvard University, she founded Latinos in Health Career (LiHC), a pre-professional organization whose objective is to provide undergraduate students with the resources to pursue their interest in a health profession. A group that still continues to this day and has now graduated multiple classes of scholars that have gone on to pursue health careers and are making a difference in their communities. When Dr. Payan takes one step forward in her own career journey, she looks back and pulls two more with her. As a result, she now has dozens of students whom she has mentored and supported.
For these reasons and many others, I nominate Dr. Denise Payan to be a 2021 Latina of Influence.