Essie Torres says like a lot Latino kids, her mom wanted her to be a doctor. The 33-year-old says she was a “nerd” as a youngster, and she always enjoyed chemistry and biology. However, by her junior year at the University of Rochester, she realized she wanted to be in the health field, but not a medical doctor.
“It just wasn’t something I was enjoying — it was more of a chore,” says Torres. “At the University of Rochester, they had a major called health and society — it was through that, and a couple of internships, that made me realize it was maybe public health I was interested in.”
And now Torres has the perfect job, which combines all her loves. She has just moved from busy New York City to calmer, more relaxed, Greenville, North Carolina, where she has just started teaching undergraduates and graduate students health education at East Carolina University.
“To be honest, it’s exactly what I wanted,” says Torres, who wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to study when she was younger. “I just didn’t know it at the time,” she says.
Torres says she’s also still connected to Roswell Park Cancer Institute — where she worked before East Carolina University. She says she loves her ongoing research position there as well, because it bridges her two worlds and keeps her on her toes and competitive.
“My end goal is to stay in academia and do research. My past educational opportunities have been heavy on the research aspect, and here I’m starting to develop my teaching portfolio,” adds Torres.
After earning her bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Rochester, Torres went to SUNY at Albany for her masters in public health, and then returned to the University of Rochester to complete her PhD.
“I got a research assignment through the University of Rochester in collaboration with the Dominican Republic ministry of health,” says Torres, who went back and forth between the two countries for about six years. “That’s really what got me interested in doing research and pursuing my PhD.”
She says she loves what she does, because it combines research with working with the community — helping them tackle a health problem.
“My PhD is in human development, but my dissertation focused on pregnant women and tobacco use in the Dominican Republic,” says Torres. “I’ve always been interested in women’s health.”
With her family originating from Guatemala, she says she also feels like she’s always had a foot in two worlds.
“I grew up in a strict household with Guatemalan values,” says Torres. “I would go there every summer from age 7 or 8 until college. I appreciate that now, because it made me very aware of my culture…I wouldn’t have changed that for anything in the world.”
She says her mixed cultural background has made her the person she is today. Her single mom also taught her the value of working hard.
“Nothing was going to be given to me on a silver platter,” remembers what her mother used to tell her. “That was instilled in me very early…My mom expected the best from me at school. Looking back, it gave me the strong work ethic in education and working period. I think I learned that from my mom.”
Now, Torres enjoys passing on what she’s learned in life and school to her students and 11-month-old daughter. She says today, it’s her family that comes first, and she tries her best to leave her work at work.
“I remember how hard it was to acclimate myself to this college life that I knew nothing about, and no one could tell me what it was going to be like,” says Torres who wishes she had a Latina mentor who understood her culture. “It makes me feel like I’m giving back…I like to make their journey a little easier.”