When growing up in Guam sparks a lifetime commitment to advocating for those experiencing health disparities across all borders.
Kara Rubio is a Research Fellow at The Pittsburgh Foundation.
1. Are you from Pittsburgh? I moved to Pittsburgh in 2018 after graduating with my Master’s in Public Health from the University of Rochester, where I also completed my undergraduate studies. I was born in Connecticut and raised in the Philippines until our family moved to Guam, a US territory on the Pacific Ocean. Growing up on an island made for a happy childhood but also meant I experienced culture shock moving to places with four seasons.
2. Tell us a little about your family. I was lucky to have grown up in a multigenerational household, where I had my parents, siblings, cousins, titas [aunts], titos [uncles] and my grandparents. My whole family, most of whom are in the Philippines, helped raise my cousins and me.. I have two siblings who live in Massachusetts; I am the middle child of three. My older sister has a five-year-old son who is the center of my family – he brings us so much joy and happiness. My parents reside in Guam but come to visit us here on the mainland often…they still owe me a visit in Pittsburgh!
3. How did you choose the career you’re in today? I have always been interested in the intersection of the built and natural environment and health. Growing up in Guam, I spent a lot of weekends going to Zumba dance parties and bake sales for family friends who were raising money to help with the costs of accessing medical care. I saw firsthand how many people on my island were getting sick at a young age; and how hard it was to access quality healthcare. Most people had to fly to Hawaii (8 hours) or the Philippines (4 hours) to get advanced medical treatments for cancer and other chronic diseases.
4. What do you love most about your job? I enjoy the ability to practice applied public health, examining health disparities from a lens that is grounded in racial equity and that centers on community strengths rather than their challenges. I learn something new every day and work with a group of colleagues who inspire me constantly in their pursuit of our five values: accountability, trust, collaboration, community and racial justice.
5. What are some of your hobbies or favorite things to do outside of work? I volunteer with my neighborhood group Lawrenceville United, and currently serve on the board of directors for Assemble and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. I learned how to bike during the early months of the pandemic. I biked to work for the first time a few weeks ago with a coworker and felt super proud of myself!
6. Why do you think it’s so important to give back to your community? In college, I was a regular volunteer at several non-profits. I saw firsthand the depth and breadth of the work that is only possible because of the non-profit sector and wanted to build a career using my skills in public health. I think volunteering is a great way to learn not just about your community’s needs, but also their strengths. It’s a great way to feel connected to your neighbors and to help ground you, especially as a transplant in a new city.
7. Why do you volunteer with United Way? I think it’s important that young and early-career professionals have a voice in philanthropy. Philanthropy is not just about charity; it’s also an opportunity to learn about fields and sectors that you may not work in and identify ways that your unique skills can make an impact.