An Immigrant Story: Michelle Garde ’94 Takes First Place in Community Health Care-Tech Startup
We know that our diversity is our strength. A significant part of this diversity comes from our immigrant community. In an effort to recognize and celebrate the immigrant experience, we have created this series of articles entitled An Immigrant Story.
Michelle Garde ’94 was appointed Head of Value Analytics Yuvo health, the first venture-funded health tech startup dedicated to community health. “I started my life in Grenada and immigrated to this country when I was 10 years old. It was a big transition for me,” says Garde, a first-generation college student who earned her BS in law from John Jay and an MPA from New York University. She originally wanted to work in the legal field and then switched to a career in public health. “I transitioned into healthcare because I saw a need in underserved communities that I knew I could add value to. It’s exciting to be with Yuvo because it’s a company dedicated to helping people through community health centers,” says Garde. “The founding team is made up entirely of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and the founder himself was a patient at a community health center as a child.”
Come to the United States
As a young child, Garde was raised by her grandparents and a large community of extended families. “It was a small island, but there were always many positive influences in my life,” she recalls. “When I came to this country, only my immediate family lived in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn. Everything was different, from mannerisms to accents. It was a huge adaptation coming from a Caribbean culture.” Growing up, Garde envisioned becoming a right-back and set her sights on John Jay. “The college had a great reputation for law studies and was in a great location,” says Garde. “For me, the first in my immediate family to go to college, it couldn’t get any better.”
“I could be my authentic self with my group of Caribbean friends at John Jay.” —Michelle Garde ’94
Be with John Jay
One of the first things Garde noticed upon entering campus was the large Caribbean population. “It meant something to me to be around people who ate the same food, laughed at similar stories and danced to the same music. I found great comfort in these familiar cultural references. I could be my authentic self with my group of Caribbean friends at John Jay,” she says. On campus, Garde’s network of Caribbean colleagues often engaged in extensive discussions about political, social, educational, and economic situations in the United States and its respective Caribbean islands. “These debates framed our relationship with one another and helped us piece together our own narratives as Caribbean immigrants. Those are conversations and stories that still influence me to this day.”
Transition to public health
After graduating from John Jay, Garde worked as a paralegal and later switched to health finance inspired by conversations with her John Jay friends. They often spoke about health inequities, and she was still passionate about issues facing underserved communities. “So I decided to do my MPA in public administration and health finance,” she says.
“I learned more about the factors that influence a person’s access to care. I began analyzing and curating data that could inform decisions about healthcare availability and opportunities.” —Michelle Garde ’94
After earning her master’s degree, Garde secured jobs in community centers, database organizations, and well-known healthcare companies. “With every job, I learned more about the factors that influence a person’s access to care. I began analyzing and curating data that could inform decisions about healthcare availability and opportunities,” says Garde, who has worked for companies like EmblemHealth, Affinity Health Plan, and Visiting Nurse Service of New York. “Over time, I began to see myself as a storyteller. I took data and sketched what the story might look like if we changed certain variables or started different initiatives to improve a community.”
Find the perfect position
Garde was excited to join Yuvo Health. “I couldn’t imagine a better position. I use all my past experiences and help people who look like me get the medical care they need,” she says. In her new role, Garde delves into various data points – such as how often people see a GP – and illustrates community concerns to a range of stakeholders involved in community health centres. By creating a data-rich narrative, her team proposes robust solutions — like extending evening hours or developing an urgent care cooperative — that could improve the lives of people in underserved communities.
“I use all of my previous experience and help people who look like me get the healthcare they need.” —Michelle Garde ’94
Offer sage advice
Thinking back to her younger self at John Jay — and considering current students with similarly deadlocked career plans — Garde has this piece of advice: “Be open to what’s coming your way. When you think of your “basket” of experiences, check out all the articles. If you focus too much on one “object” or plan your future, you could be missing out on something you really love.”