Mount Saint Mary’s University graduates become leaders in their fields, pioneering new programs and often earning recognition for their achievements. Recently, Mary Lou de Leon Siantz ’69, PhD, was recognized for her work in healthcare with a prestigious award from the National Hispanic Health Foundation (NHHF).
Along with civil rights icon Dolores Huerta and her son Dr. Fidel Huerta, de Leon Siantz was among eight leadership honorees feted at the NHHF’s 10th annual Hispanic Health Professional Student Scholarship Gala in Los Angeles on Dec. 14. The honorees were recognized for their contributions to advancing health care for Hispanic populations and underserved communities.
“It is first and foremost, a recognition that I accept not as Dr. Mary Lou de Leon Siantz, but on behalf of the Mexican/Latina farmworker women and their families who both inspired and propelled me into my academic research, teaching, service, and advocacy roles,” she said. “Accepting the award is a magical moment for the daughter of Mexican immigrants. It is the magic of my family, mentors, unforeseen national/international professional opportunities, inspirational clinical, research, and academic experiences, a leap of faith with blessings, as I dared to take the risks that brought me to this moment.”
De Leon Siantz invited her former Mount professor, Betty Williams, to the award ceremony. Williams was the first black professor in California and a recipient of the prestigious designation Living Legend of the American Academy of Nursing, the second member of the Mount community to receive that honor after Sister Callista Roy, CSJ.
De Leon Siantz earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the Mount, a master of nursing degree from UCLA and a doctorate in human development from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is currently a professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at the University of California, Davis.
De Leon Siantz is well known for her research into the health of Hispanic migrant and immigrant populations. She is also the founding director of the UC Davis Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives on Science (CAMPOS). This NSF-sponsored ADVANCE research center focuses on institutional transformation as it works to increase the number of women in science, starting with Latinas and other underrepresented groups. In addition to mentoring and teaching the health care leaders of tomorrow, de Leon Siantz also finds time to serve as the associate director of the Latino Aging Research Resource Center’s Mentorship Core. She has been published in many scientific journals in her field, and she was recognized as a Top Latina in Health and Science by Hispanic magazine.
We asked de Leon Siantz about her memories of the Mount and the direction of her career:
Question: What was the most valuable lesson you learned at the Mount?
It is a challenge to quantify only one lesson. I learned many as a student nurse at the Mount. First and foremost, the required basic science and philosophy taught me valuable critical thinking skills applied throughout my career. The English professors helped me develop the writing skills that I needed, as English was my second language. I was equally fortunate to have had excellent nursing professors who inspired interdisciplinary/team science and practice early on and commitment to advocate for the patients we serve with data. Understanding the importance of social justice and bioethics to health care were also valuable lessons integral to my Mount education, especially in public health, a specialty I embraced my senior year. The required arts and humanities courses contributed to my liberal arts perspective, which is so important to health professionals and STEM scientists. In general, the Mount provided many valuable lessons needed to lead change and shape the future of health care and STEM science.
Q: What is the current focus of your career?
A: My current career focus is threefold: first, as a nurse researcher, next as a health professional leader, and third as an educator/role model for the next generation of nurses and health professionals, especially those from underrepresented minority groups. As a nurse researcher, I am committed to conducting research that will help to reduce the health disparities that immigrant Latino families experience, especially rural farm worker families and children. I have focused on identifying risk and protective factors among mothers, fathers, infants, children, and adolescents. I am now at a phase to develop, adapt, and test culturally and linguistically acceptable interventions to promote the mental health of Latino adolescents in agricultural communities. I am also partnering with STEM scientists and the 4H extension center at UC Davis to test curricula that will engage rural Latino students to study STEM science. Few Latinos enter the STEM or health science fields. As a health professional leader, I am committed to preparing the next generation of health sciences and STEM leaders from underrepresented groups. As a mentor, I hope to help them develop a vision for their professional success, learn to work with policy makers, give back to their communities as academics, practitioners or entrepreneurs, and change the face of their professions. As a professor of nursing, I have a deep commitment to the education of the next generation of nurses to be culturally sensitive in their clinical care and research, and to understand the impact of their profession on the health of society in the 21st century.
Q: What is your message for current and future nursing students?
A: A career in nursing opens the door to unbelievable opportunities. Nurses can work in traditional and non-traditional settings, practice at the bedside or in local, national and global communities, participate or lead research that promotes health and eliminates health disparities, help to design hospitals, health systems, government health policies, and lead in their implementation. I see outer space and look forward to meeting the first nurse astronaut. Nurse researchers can conduct bench science, public health, bedside research, and team science. Advanced practice nurses can work independently, as team members, and as entrepreneurs.
For current and future nurses, find mentors who will help you along your professional journey, beginning as students. Identify those whom you admire and talk with them. Ask them how they achieved their success. See yourselves as leaders, especially with the education that the Mount provides. Leaders can be role models and excellent practitioners, but you need to learn how to be the best in whatever you endeavor. Nurse leaders with big and bold visions are needed now more than ever. Take risks. Have faith that you will learn from success and failure. Do not be afraid to embrace both. Give back to the next generation that will follow your footsteps. Remember that it is a privilege to serve families during critical moments of their lifespan.