Public health nutritionist awarded 2016 Yamashita Prize

Aileen Suzara

Aileen Suzara (Photo by Cynthia Alvarez)

Aileen Suzara, a land- and kitchen-based educator who earned her master’s degree at UC Berkeley in public health nutrition in 2015, has been awarded the 2016 Foundations for Change: Thomas I. Yamashita Prize. The $2,500 prize, awarded under the auspices of the campus’s Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, is given annually to an outstanding young social change activist in California “whose work transforms the existing landscape,” and “serves as a bridge between the academy and the community.”

Suzara, with roots in the environmental justice and community health movements, was nominated for the award by Rosalie Fanshel, program manager with the Berkeley Food Institute, where Suzara worked as a graduate student researcher. Suzara was a leader in the institute’s community engagement program, which aims to build bridges between UC Berkeley and the broader food and agriculture community.

As a grad student, collaborating with Filipino Advocates for Justice, Suzara supported the launch of Bahay Kubo, a garden in Union City that builds upon the organization’s youth leadership model with hands-on experiences in growing and sharing healthy Filipino food. The project placed first in the 2015 Big Ideas@Berkeley competition.

Suzara ‘s social change efforts over the past decade have focused on building health among Bay Area communities of color. As a public health nutritionist, she delves into health inequities faced by Filipino Americans, including diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

At this year’s awards ceremony, Mari Rose Taruc, chair of the board of directors of the Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity, or FACES, praised Suzara’s leadership in promoting health and cultural traditions among youth and mobilizing them as advocates in combating climate change. The ceremony, which drew an enthusiastic crowd of some 50 people inspired by Suzara’s work, featured a keynote by Lauret Edith Savoy, a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College, where Suzara received her bachelor’s degree.