From the first moment speaking with Kyana Iida, it is clear she has a big heart. The progressive degree student, selected as the student speaker at the Keck School of Medicine undergraduate graduation ceremony this year, has made a habit of serving others – both through research and activities at USC and volunteering with outside organizations.
Iida has always loved connecting with others and had a keen interest in health. The pre-med student originally entered USC as a biology major, but her desire to relate health to daily life led her to switch to health promotion and disease prevention. “I’ve taken environmental health classes, as well as climate change, paternal health, so this is all very applicable to our lives,” says Iida.
As a progressive degree student in the Master of Science in Global Medicine program, Iida was exposed to diverse perspectives, with opportunities to learn about various populations and cultures. “I think it’s a very holistic approach, and that’s what is super special about Keck,” she says. “It’s very unique and there’s so many different opportunities.”
Iida has used her time at USC to get involved in research and volunteer activities that make a difference in the lives of others. She currently assists with clinical cancer research at the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine. Iida helps patients with various types of cancer enroll in studies exploring treatments.
As President of Keck Student Ambassadors – the undergraduate student association at Keck School of Medicine – Iida facilitates outreach to undergraduates at the school, and hosts events like networking opportunities.
Iida has volunteered in multiple capacities with kids, which has fueled her desire to go into pediatrics. She works with USC Science Outreach providing science enrichment at local elementary schools in underserved communities. “They don’t have a lot of STEM-based learning and there’s not a lot of resources… we do science experiments and different projects like that with them so that they’re able to have the science enrichment that they might be missing from their traditional curriculum,” she says. Iida also spends time with pediatric cancer patients through an organization called Project Sunshine. She fondly recalls playing games with the kids over Zoom during the pandemic.
It was tutoring in Alaska that confirmed for Iida that she would build a future working with children. Her parents relocated to a small, rural community in Alaska, and the Hawaii native stays in her new hometown during school breaks. While there, she volunteered at a local elementary school. “[The kids] all came from underserved families who couldn’t afford to hire a tutor, so it was through the state… A lot of them were a little bit behind in school, so it was fun to help them with their developmental foundations for education and learning,” says Iida. “And just working with the kids – they were so sweet – and the families were so receptive. That was one of the experiences that helped me want to go into pediatrics, was working with those kids.”
Iida finds working with underserved populations extremely rewarding, and she sees abundant opportunity to be of service in Los Angeles. “I think working with underserved communities that don’t have a lot of access to healthcare – and there are so many barriers that everybody faces – I think it’s very special to be able to help people,” says Iida. She specifically looks forward to making a difference for children and parents. ““I just love kids, I feel like you can really make a huge impact on their life early on… I think I could be a good support for [the parents] as well,” says Iida.
After graduation, Iida will take a few gap years before going on to medical school. She will continue to work in research at the Ellison Institute, and also hopes to hold another clinical position. She is grateful to have attended USC. “It was my dream school since I was little,” she says. Favorite memories include reuniting with friends in person as the pandemic began to ease and taking Professor Avol’s environmental health classes.
Iida’s advice for her fellow graduates is both wise and optimistic. “You can’t really control what life throws at you, but you can control the way you respond to things, and what you make of every situation,” she says. “A positive mindset is super important and checking up on the people close to you as well.”