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Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Anabel Rodriguez, PhD, MPH

ARodriguez

I am currently working as Research Coordinator in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics, and Environmental Sciences, at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health in San Antonio.

What led you to public health and to occupational & environmental health in particular?

I grew up part of an immigrant, migrant family who traveled from South Texas to the agricultural valleys of Southern California every summer. At a raw age of thirteen, I started picking grapes. I believed this was normal and that this was the way to the promised American dream. Part of me was correct. However, my parents always reminded my siblings and I that there was one way out for people like us—education. To this day mi papa still reminds us, “El dia que me muera, no te puedo pejar ni dinero, ni nada de valor. Todo lo que te puedo dejar es tu educacion. Nadien te la pude quitar.” [“The day I die, I will not be able to leave you money nor any other valuable goods. The only thing I will leave you is your education. No one can take that away from you.”] As a Gates Millennium and College Assistant Migrant Program scholar, I was able to graduate from Saint Edward’s University in Austin, Texas with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. While at St. Edward’s, I took interest in microbiological research methods and infectious diseases. I completed two research projects focused on food safety and human floral sequencing under the research mentorship of Dr. Patricia Baynham. This work and mentorship ultimately led me to pursue my MPH in Epidemiology at UTHealth SPH in San Antonio. During my first semester, I became a Graduate Research Assistant under the supervision of Dr. David Douphrate, managing various research projects focused on improving occupational health and safety of dairy workers and logging machine operators. The majority of research we conducted required heavy field data collection in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, among other states. Through this work, I was able to travel and meet individuals, like my parents, who were seeking the ‘American Dream.’ In particular, working with dairy farm workers across the U.S. inspired me to keep working towards improving working conditions and advocating for their health and safety. Shortly after finishing my MPH, I started my PhD in Epidemiology as a NIOSH Occupational Epidemiology Trainee. Dr. David Gimeno was my academic advisor during both my MPH and PhD programs. As a trainee, I had the opportunity to apply for pilot projects, which led to the funding and completion of my dissertation—tuberculosis among dairy workers in Texas.

Tell us about your work. What is an average day like for you?

Currently, I continue to manage research projects focused on occupational health and safety among agricultural workers at UTHealth School of Public Health. In addition, I am also adjunct faculty for Environmental Health at Schreiner University in Kerrville—a faith-based university with a mission to create opportunities and provide a holistic educational experience—where I teach fundamentals of epidemiology by integrating real-life cases and current peer-reviewed research.

How did your education as a SWCOEH ERC trainee at UTHealth School of Public Health prepare you for your current career?

My experience as a SWCOEH ERC trainee provided me with throughout experiences, I learned how to implement, communicate, and disseminate research findings to the intended community; however, most importantly, I learned the value of multidisciplinary collaborations in order to put research into practice. 

What advice do you have for students pursuing a SWCOEH ERC traineeship leading to a career in public health?

To me, education has a value beyond currency. Funded education was the way out of the chronic poverty and marginalization faced daily in the Rio Grande Valley and in the migrant camps of California. Education allowed me to dream big and believe I had worth and purpose in life, enough to pursue a higher education.