Yessenia Reynoso Rodriguez, Health + Tech ’23 (Interdisciplinary Studies): “I’ve been giving myself the opportunity to dream.”

On coming back from rejection, learning to lead, and leaving the world better than you found it

Fung Fellowship
8 min readFeb 13, 2023

Over the course of her academic career, Yessenia has found herself drawn to many different things, English, political science, architecture, art history, but most importantly, design. How to study design in college, however, proved to be a more difficult question. At UC Berkeley, she found the opportunity to explore a plethora of interests via interdisciplinary studies and eventually, the intersection between public health and art became the clear frontrunner. Coincidentally, the Fung Fellowship provided her with the opportunity to explore just that. And, if Yessenia can help just one person with what she has learned, that will be more than enough.

This is her story.

Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?

My name is Yessenia and I’m a fifth year transfer student and it’s my last semester at UC Berkeley! I was born and raised in San Leandro, CA and still call it home! Before working at KALX Berkeley 90.7 FM as an operations assistant, I was a barista for almost six years. I have a 16 year old chihuahua named Lola whom I adore. I’m also an aunt to four wonderful children and hope to fulfill the role as the cool tía (aunt).

What do you study and why did you choose it?

I’m an Interdisciplinary Studies major with concentrations in Public Health, Chicano Studies, and Art, though it took a few years to come to this decision. I dropped out of college at 19 and spent three years working until I decided to enroll at my local community college. I spent the next three years changing my major a few times, from English, to Political Science, Architecture, Art History, and Graphic Design. I knew design had always been my initial interest, but didn’t know how to apply it.

It wasn’t until I applied to UC Berkeley and learned about their Interdisciplinary Studies program that I had the opportunity to essentially create my own major. As a first-generation Mexican-American student who grew up low-income, I knew I wanted to focus on Chicano Studies. I took a course with Bernard Griego on Chicanos and Healthcare, and that was a space where I got to learn about public health. The class also sparked my interest in cultural competence and advocacy and ultimately paved the way for my two other concentrations of public health and art.

Last spring, I had the honor of taking The Art of Public Health with Jaspal S. Sandhu and Somalee Banerjee. The class itself was mind blowing and it was inspiring to see how art and public health are so connected.

All of this culminated in my senior thesis, in which I focus on mental health care among the elderly Latinx population in the United States and I hope to incorporate art therapy into it.

What led you to apply and join the Fung Fellowship? Why did you choose the Health + Tech Track?

I learned about the Fung Fellowship when I was applying to UC Berkeley through my former mentor and a former Fung Fellow, Nseke Ngilbus. I wanted to take more design-related courses but wasn’t sure if Berkeley offered any.

It’s funny to share now, but I didn’t get into the Fung Fellowship my first semester. Rejection is redirection, and it truly gave me the opportunity to explore areas of study I shared earlier. During that period I got to take courses on human-centered design and visual storytelling.

When I learned Fung Fellowship was opening to seniors for the first time, I was excited to see how both human-centered design and health intersect. I chose the Health + Tech track to see and learn what designing to make an impact in health care can look like.

Even this past semester, we’ve had so many amazing guest speakers and opportunities to put what we’ve learned to practice!

What made you want to join the FF Student Leadership Team?

I never saw myself as a leader for a long period. The thought of it intimidated me, and I didn’t give myself permission to explore that area.

The Fung Fellowship is truly a special place, in that we’re given the opportunity to help co-design our experience as fellows. It’s also a space where guidance is offered, so being in a space with many other wonderful peers exploring and growing in leadership sounded like a great push to grow.

It has been exciting and fulfilling leaning into a role I’d never thought was capable of. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m excited to continue learning from my peers on the Student Leadership Team!

What are your professional goals?

This is a question that has frightened me, but as the years have gone by, I’ve been giving myself the opportunity to dream. I hope to become a user experience (UX) researcher or a product designer in the health sector. The Fung Fellowship has shown me there are many amazing roles available.

I would also like to get my PhD in Public Health in the future, but I’ll definitely take a much needed break from school first. Aside from design-related professional goals, I’d like to dive into the culinary world at some point and try food writing and recipe development; maybe I’ll even open a pop-up restaurant.

What are some of your hobbies/passions?

Food! Over the last few years, food has become a creative outlet for me. It’s a space where I can fail, experiment, and share with others. This last December, I made five different types of cookies and ended up baking over 350 cookies. I hand delivered 30 boxes all over the Bay Area to friends and family. It was a tiring yet amazing experience to see so many people I haven’t seen in such a long time, even if it was for a brief second.

I also enjoy traveling! Last spring, I traveled to Italy by myself and got to indulge in Renaissance art in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, followed Anthony Bordain’s lead in trying the cacio e pepe from Roma Sparita, took a pasta making class, and learned how to make pesto genovese. I also stayed with my sister’s host family in Genoa and finally fulfilled my dream of singing Lizzie McGuire’s “What Dreams Are Made Of” in front of the Coliseum in Rome.

Aside from food and travel, I enjoy music. I’m a DJ at KALX 90.7FM and go by Little Citrus; my slogan is “hitting you with all the zesty jams.” I started back in Fall 2020 at the peak of COVID-19, and it’s so wild to see how much my taste in music has evolved. There are over 100,000 items in the KALX library and it has been such a gnarly experience seeing Kraftwerk and New Order vinyl that are twice as old as me! Being at KALX has given me the opportunity to connect with other amazing people about music and even interview some of my favorite musicians such as Jens Lekman and Tim Bernardes!

Is there something you are currently working on/interested in that you would like to share?

As a personal passion project, I’m currently in the process of planning a six-month backpacking trip. Maybe, by sharing it here will hold me accountable. Fear and rationality often hit me, but life is too precious and I hope to choose adventure over fear.

If all goes as planned, I’ll be spending time in Europe, Latin America, and most importantly, Mexico.

I grew up with one grandmother and lost her when I was 10 years old. I was too young to understand what was happening, but now that I’m older, I have many questions. I don’t know much about my family and to my knowledge, our history only dates back as far as my great-grandmother. Even then, I’ve only seen pictures or know first names.

As my parents are getting older, I’m seeing how important it is to document their stories. I hope to return to Mexico, meet as many living family members as possible, and see how far back I can trace our lineage.

I hope to learn recipes and customs and connect with the land. Most importantly, I hope to document and create a textbook or archive for my nieces, nephews, and future family to see. Maybe I’ll even add a chapter about my travels through Europe and Latin America.

What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?

I hope to leave this world better than I found it. I think a lot about Mr. Rogers’ Dartmouth commencement speech in 2002 when I think of what impact I want to have on this world (you should watch once, and probably have a box of tissues on hand).

Oftentimes, there is this need to be recognized but I’ve learned that even if I help one person, that’s what matters. I hope I’m a person that encourages someone to go after their dream, to enroll in a class or two, to learn how to play the drums, and maybe even take their first solo trip.

In the speech, Mr. Rogers encouraged the graduating class to hold a minute of silence to honor and think of the person who has made an impact on their lives. He said, “It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our lives from which we make our choices is very good stuff.”

That’s powerful, I’m not sure if I’ll be the person with the next big innovative idea, and I’m okay with that. But having the opportunity to help and encourage others, even if it’s just one person, is more than enough.

Fun fact:

I’m left-handed and can play the guitar with my right hand (for the most part)!

Connect with Yessenia Reynoso Rodriguez.

Edited by Veronica Roseborough.



Fung Fellowship

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