iSchool Student’s Award Sparks Classmate to Apply
Award Will Fund Health Education Research


Renée Torres and Alejandra Reyes, both in their final semester of the Master of Library and Information Science program at the San José State University School of Information and both members of the REFORMA Student and Alumni Group, were awarded professional development awards from the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region.

The recently created NNLM PSR BIPOC LIS Award is specifically for library and information science students and recent graduates who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color. The award encourages equal access to health education by promoting diversity in the health sciences information profession. Each of the seven awards will cover costs up to $2,000 for a project related to health information outreach. The award matches recipients with a BIPOC mentor librarian working in health sciences or providing health information.

Alejandra Reyes“One of the reasons I love the iSchool is they’re great at sharing opportunities,” said Torres, who heard about the award via iSchool email, her internship supervisor, and a social media post by fellow recipient Reyes. “All of the different aspects of my library world were saying, ‘you should apply for this!’”

Both Torres and Reyes are active in SJSU’s student chapter of REFORMA, which supports students and alumni interested in working with Spanish-speaking communities, but initially neither was aware of the other’s interest in the award. Reyes is the group’s marketing and social media liaison, and after tweeting the award information, thought, “if I am promoting it, why not apply?” However, it was only when Torres shared the news of her win, and also mentioned that there were still awards available, that Reyes completed the application. “Her getting the award was like, ‘you can do it too,’” said Reyes.

The brief, three question application made the process easy, and Reyes was particularly drawn to the award’s goal: “‘To enable people to make informed decisions about their health’—I think that sentence just captured me.” Reyes has focused on a career in public and school libraries, but she welcomed the opportunity to step outside her “bubble” and learn about another aspect of librarianship. Ultimately, she saw health education as an extension of the information sharing and outreach work she does in her part-time position at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Renée TorresBoth students built upon school and life experience to create their proposals. Torres will use the award to research and present on graphic medicine. Although she has a background in the humanities and plans a career in academic libraries, Torres has always been fascinated with science. The self-described “comic nerd” began exploring the use of visual media in science during an internship at the University of Southern California’s Norris Medical Library, where she created a library guide exploring the subject. She has applied to present her project at the California Library Association’s annual conference and plans to apply to the Medical Library Association, as well.

Torres notes that using visual imagery as an educational tool can help overcome language and literacy barriers. “It’s important, in light of the ongoing pandemic, to make sure people have access to health information regardless of language,” Torres commented.

Reyes is working with her new mentor to develop an infographic about mental health and self-care in low-income, Spanish-speaking communities. “I didn’t grow up with ‘take care of yourself,’” said Reyes, whose parents were immigrants. “It’s always been, ‘you’re here to study, you’re here to work,’ that’s it.” Reyes now has children of her own and wants to let them know that it’s okay to talk about issues that were taboo when she was growing up.

Noting that the pandemic also means a challenging job search, Torres says the award will help “beef up my resume,” adding, “It helps me transition from a student to a new professional.” Reyes echoes the sentiment: “It’s comforting that I’m not wasting time, and I’m actually doing something that will benefit me and fill in the gaps in my resume.”

For both students, the award confirms that they’re on the right career path. “This award reaffirms how supportive the library world really is,” said Torres. Reyes expressed that “receiving the award made me feel like, yes, this is why I did the program.”

As of this publication date, NNML PSR BIPOC LIS awards are still available.