June 24, 2024

Stream Health Care

It Looks Good On You

2024 Undergraduate Student Speaker and Global Health Graduate

4 min read

“Every “first” that year felt really special!”’~Mika Ishii

In 2020, Mika Ishii started her freshman year online, signing-in from her hometown in Hawaii. “All my classes were on Zoom, and it was really difficult—especially with the time difference,” she says.  Ishii, a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship, initially started at USC as an economics major and outside of class, she joined the USC Trojan Marching Band as a member of the alto saxophone section. “I was able to meet really great friends through this experience and it gave me a sense of community during the pandemic,” she explains.

smiling female graduate
(Photo courtesy Mika Ishii)

The following year, Ishii relocated to Los Angeles and began her sophomore year at University Park Campus—which she says felt more like her freshman year. She moved into the residential college suites and finally put a face to the names of students she had met virtually the prior year. “It was nice to meet everybody for the first time and talk to them in-person,” she recalls. “Whether it was watching football games with my friends and witnessing school spirit or playing with the Trojan Marching Band at a basketball game and hearing that sound live—every “first” that year felt really special.”

On campus, she switched her major. “The moment I took Dr. Wipfli’s class ‘Introduction to Global Health’, I knew that global health was the right major for me, and I decided to pursue a career in medicine,” she reveals. “I have really enjoyed combining the social and natural sciences and taking courses ranging from international relations and economics to health promotion. They have provided me with a way to see different aspects of the world—whether that’s connecting economic trends or learning about globalization and policy, I learned how systemic issues can affect health,” she remarks.

During her time at USC, Ishii participated in the USC GRIT Lab led by Director of Undergraduate Programs Heather Wipfli, PhD, where she conducted drowning prevention research in Uganda. “What drew me to this work is the fact that I’m from Hawaii and we’re surrounded by the ocean, so I’ve grown up understanding how important it is to learn about swimming and water safety,” she affirms. “I have taken so many classes with Dr. Wipfli and have learned so much from conducting research with her. She has really inspired me as a mentor. The same is also true for Dr. Panayiota Courelli who has helped me with career development and given me great advice.”

Outside the program, Ishii was involved in the USC Undergraduate Student Government for four years. In her role as associate director for the performing, visual arts, and cultural funds, she helped students finance a variety of projects from theatre productions to cultural events. “This experience is something I really enjoyed because students may otherwise not have been able to produce events for their communities. It’s been my way to help the larger Trojan family,” she says.

Ishii has also been involved with several organizations volunteering her time and efforts to the Luskin Orthopaedic Institute for Children, Medicinal Music Makers, and tutoring other students in the global health program. “What I am most proud of during my time here is being able to impact people, whether that has been on campus or across the greater Los Angeles area.”

Away from USC, Ishii interned at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center looking at cancer disparities through clinical trials. “I became interested in this research because of its global health focus. It provided me an opportunity to apply what I had learned at USC, through my research and statistics classes, to a real-life study,” she indicates.

After graduation, Ishii intends to conduct research before applying to medical school. Thereafter, she hopes to address health disparities in her community in Hawaii. “I want to make a positive impact on the world and hope to use the knowledge that I gained in this program to help those across the islands where there are not enough healthcare workers or doctors,” she maintains.

Looking back on the last four years she reflects, “this program is really great, and it has wonderful faculty, staff, and students who all share a similar goal of making a positive impact on the world.” She advises other students to find the joy in life and appreciate the little moments, because it goes by so fast. She concludes by saying, “take what you receive from this program and give back to your own community—because I think that is really important!”


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