Fostering connections for Latinos


Attending the Unidos US conference changed the course of Chancellor's Scholar Gisela Perez's life by enabling her to identify her true interest. After getting firsthand knowledge of social concerns from the vice president, Perez realized she had a love for nonprofit work and healthcare.

Perez is committed to eliminating obstacles that prevent Latino communities from accessing social welfare and healthcare opportunities locally and nationally. Her research has primarily concentrated on the discrepancies among the Latino population.

Through funding received from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), Perez has worked with the Indiana University School of Medicine to explore autism disparities in the Latino community.

“Our main goal is to bridge the gap for Latino parents that have kids with autism," Perez said. "There are a lot of disparities in the Latino community when it comes to looking for resources. I talked to parents, interviewed them, and made sure that they’re getting the resources they need.”

With the current UROP funding, Perez serves as a bilingual research assistant where her job entails building trust with the research participants. 

“People have more trust in you if you speak the language and come from the same cultural background,” Perez said. “They open up to me about things that they didn’t mention to my mentor or supervisors.”

UROP is an IUPUI program that provides funds for students to pursue projects with their mentors and develop research and scholarly skills. These student-mentor projects often revolve around the student’s college coursework and are applicable to the student’s future profession.

The UROP funding has made it possible for Perez to travel to conferences to present the results from the research she conducted alongside her mentor, Ann Marie Martin, who is a postdoctoral fellow in pediatrics.

Perez’s passion for fostering connections in the Latino community had led her to start a chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association at IUPUI. She currently serves as president of the organization.  

“My primary reason for starting this was to bring Latino medical students together and to teach them about all the resources that LMSA has to offer,” Perez said.  

Perez’s work has led to Latino medical students at IUPUI finding research opportunities and mentorships, while having increased access to medical conferences. Perez’s involvement doesn’t end there. As the cultural awareness and social media chair for Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority Incorporated, Perez organized the Latin Mixer Event which aimed at fostering connections for Latino students at IUPUI.

“In the past year, I have been able to bring over 200 students and connect them to different Latino organizations throughout campus,” Perez said.

As a result of her position in Gamma Phi Omega, Perez was invited to attend the UNIDOS US conference, where she learned about various social and economic issues that plague the Latino community.

“That conference changed my mind on what I wanted to do in the future,” Perez said.  

Following the conference, Perez went to Washington, D.C. to participate in a march to the White House advocating for licenses for undocumented individuals.

Perez ultimately shifted from the pre-med track to pursuing nonprofit activities once she realized that her true passion lay in social activism. Her pursuit of a master’s in public affairs with a concentration in non-profit management is a testament to her dedication.  

“I realized that everything I've done throughout college was leading me more towards public affairs," Perez said. "And that's what I found the most joy in." 

Fortunately for Perez, she found ample opportunities through the Honors College that allowed her to pursue her newfound interests. From discovering nonprofit opportunities to acquiring financial support, Perez credits the Honors College for its relentless aid.

The staff at the Honors College have really supported me and encouraged me to seek more opportunities.