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UCI Student Receives $15,000 Donald A. Strauss Scholarship

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Third year human biology, economics and political sciences student Steven Gong is one of 14 students to receive the $15,000 2021 Strauss Scholarship for his public service project titled “California Health Advocacy Network” (CHAN). 

Photo Courtesy of Steven Gong

Every year, the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation awards up to 15 California college students with aid in financing year-long public service projects to promote future leaders. 

CHAN works to increase the healthcare coverage of underinsured California residents through youth advocacy, employing an ambassador model where college students campaign and enroll underrepresented areas in healthcare plans.

“It aims to do two things: [solve] political and medical disparities within healthcare. What I specifically mean by that is that it aims to solve a lack of youth representation in health legislative space. Typically, by simplifying down big health updates, but also to directly engage in addressing health disparities and health reform by going out into local uninsured communities and enrolling them in free plans,” Gong said. 

Gong’s past issues with health insurance opened his eyes to the impact a lack of coverage can have on one’s life, and partly inspired him to pursue this project. 

“Both my parents are nurses, but I think the biggest influences were my own experiences in healthcare,” Gong said. “My own grandma experienced a stroke abroad in 2019, and she wasn’t insured, so what happened after that was I had to live alone from a couple weeks to a couple months because if you experience any sort of health incident internationally, you’re not covered by health insurance. That sort of financial burden that it places on you — it really takes a toll.”

One of the inspirations Gong credits is UCI Paul Merage School of Business lecturer Lisa Levitt, who encouraged him to take on the service project and begin the application process.

“Her perspectives on healthcare … really inspired me to take a deeper look at the entire industry because there is so much jargon out there. So many technicalities. It’s so hard to understand. Especially when you’re crunched on time because of the medical emergency,” Gong said. 

The funding from the Strauss Scholarship has allowed Gong to maintain a website and establish a logo. Gong will also contribute some of the funding toward civic engagement, including a lobbying trip planned for this spring to have ambassadors campaign directly to state legislators and officials. 

“There is about a $10,000 budget allocation, in which I can contribute $5,000 more just from the personal scholarship side … It covers a lot of resources that help people get civically engaged in things. If you do raffles, those can become costly. If you do, say, research or polls, those can quickly become costly. Specifically through the ambassadors that we’re trying to enroll, there’s a lot of resources and materials that help simplify and heighten the visibility of our organization so people can actually access the information services that we’re trying to provide,” Gong said. 

CHAN has progressed significantly in the past few months. According to Gong, they currently have two ambassadors without the organization going public yet. 

Gong’s career aspirations following graduation have also heavily influenced how he modeled his approach to addressing healthcare coverage inequalities. 

“My big goal with creating such an organization was to focus both on the micro and the macro of healthcare, or more so the clinical nature of it through enrolling people through insurance, but also the big systemic picture in how certain groups are not as well-endowed with the resources to get insurance … I would say my plans for the future as an aspiring physician and public health official within politics definitely plays a role in seeing both perspectives,” Gong said.

The unique aspect of enlisting ambassadors sets up CHAN to be a sustainable organization, allowing it to grow as large as it needs to through the recruitment process. 

“It’s not dependent on any one individual or any one source of funding. When it comes to activism, when it comes to enrolling people in free healthcare plans, all it takes is that people have to have a will to get involved in such things. I would say that because of the advocacy nature of the work that we do, getting people’s wills up to get involved in these efforts, it just builds on itself,” Gong said. 

Yuika Yoshida is a Campus News Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at yuikay@uci.edu