Chasing the Horizon

Sophomore Lizzie Sanchez is an Act Six Scholar, a student admissions representative, a Shift leader, and a director for United Cultures of Bethel, and she's just getting started. The community health major hopes to use her own experience as a first-generation immigrant to improve access to quality healthcare in underserved communities.

By Jenny Hudalla '15, senior content specialist

March 29, 2019 | 1 p.m.

Lizzie Sanchez, sophomore community health major at Bethel University

As a first-generation immigrant, sophomore and community health major Lizzie Sanchez '21 seeks to support underrepresented communities that lack quality healthcare.

Long before Lizzie Sanchez ’21 became an Act Six Scholar, a student admissions representative, a Shift leader, or the director of United Cultures of Bethel subgroup Voz Latinx, she was a child without health insurance. Her parents wrestled with simple healthcare decisions—did a swollen eye warrant a trip to the doctor? What about a persistent cough? When the answer was yes, Sanchez remembers going to free clinics meant to serve families like hers, but they were often overcrowded and under-resourced. “I knew from then on that I wanted to work in the health field,” says Sanchez, now a sophomore majoring in community health. “I want to use my voice and be a resource for underrepresented communities that lack quality healthcare.” 

Hailing from a family of first-generation Mexican immigrants, Sanchez says it can be especially difficult for people who don’t speak English as a first language to find a provider. She dreams of starting a support center for refugees, single mothers, and other vulnerable populations as they navigate pregnancy, mental health issues, and financial challenges. “I know what it's like when money is tight and options are limited," she says. "I've had moments in my life when food was something we had to prioritize over other things. I would love to use my own experience, together with my education, to implement change in low-income communities.”

It was exactly that kind of visioning that helped her earn the Act Six Scholarship, a full-tuition urban leadership award. With six partner colleges and universities, the initiative aims to train and equip diverse young people to make a difference in their communities. Sanchez grew up in Burnsville, Minnesota, but spent her early years in Morelos, Mexico, where most of her aunts, uncles, and cousins still live. While she moved to the United States just before her fourth birthday, Sanchez still has memories of the small town where her family’s faith history is rooted. “As a young kid, my parents taught me so much,” she says. “My imagination was so broad, and I really grasped onto the idea that God is with me and for me—no matter where I am or what I do.”

"I really grasped onto the idea that God is with me and for me—no matter where I am or what I do."

— Lizzie Sanchez '21

That was especially true when she applied to Bethel. As a first-generation college student, Sanchez remembers trying to translate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for her parents even though she didn’t fully understand it herself. When it came to finding resources and support programs to ease her transition, Sanchez was largely on her own. And, almost halfway through her college career, she still feels the weight of carrying her family’s name in a privileged space. “You go into college seeing things differently than other students,” she says. “You realize all the things your family had to go through simply for you to be here.”

Determined not to waste a single moment, Sanchez is heavily involved on campus as a leader in student ministry programs and cultural organizations. She mentors freshman girls as they adjust to life at Bethel, welcomes prospective students to campus, and leads her peers as they explore and celebrate what it means to be Latino and Latina. “I’m an introvert, so leading big groups makes me nervous,” she laughs. “But I know this is meant for my growth. No matter what my job looks like in the future, I’m preparing for it now.”

After attending Urbana—an international missions conference—with other Bethel students, Sanchez’s vision for her future grew even larger. She began considering a master’s degree in global health and plans to enroll in the New York City semester program, a partnership between Bethel and The King’s College that will allow her to learn more about the business behind launching a nonprofit. “I heard stories about people who started something small but had a huge impact,” she says. “It really pushed me toward public global health and going beyond my own state to use my talents and passions for something bigger.”

 It’s lessons like those that Sanchez will pass down to her younger sisters and carry with her into professional life. While she still has two more years at Bethel, she says her faith—in God and in her own potential—has grown immensely. “When you look at a sunset, you can see the horizon but not where it ends,” she says. “We are called to learn, explore, and be the difference in our communities, close to home and across the world.”

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