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Student Spotlight: Karely Villareal Hernandez

minute read

Our center stands on three pillars: Research, Education, and Practice. One of the many ways we work to protect workers is through educating and training future leaders in occupational safety and health (OSH).

As part of our Student Spotlight series highlighting our trainees, we interviewed Karely Villareal Hernandez, a student earning a Master's in Public Health from the Colorado School of Public Health.

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Can you share a little about your background as a first-generation college graduate? How did you get to the ColoradoSPH?

I always knew that I wanted to do something related to health. While I was in high school, I had the opportunity to join a pathways program called CUPS that allowed first generation students to explore the different careers in health and STEM. One summer during our program, I had an introductory public health class that was taught by Dr. Virginia Visconti. Her class gave me the ability to put my experience into words and empowered me to bring justice to my community. After that, I went to CU Denver for my undergraduate in Public Health and then I joined the 4+1 program to do my MPH.

What piqued your interest in studying occupational health and safety?

A lot of my interests revolve around bringing justice to my Latinx community and my family. Many of my family members and friends have experienced injustices and inequities because the system does not value them. I have seen family members and friends who have not qualified for workers compensation or have been injured because the instructions or resources were not in a language that they could understand.

The workplace safety and wellness aspect of the certificate attracted me to the program. I realized that in order to have an impact on workers, I needed to learn more about the frameworks and theories behind Total Worker Health. I recognized the gaps in Latinx workers’ health – this certificate will allow me to bridge my knowledge and the existing solutions to evolve and adapt them in the future.

Tell us about an impactful project you’ve worked on.

This Spring 2022, I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala to assist in a research study about chronic kidney disease in sugarcane workers. Here I learned the importance of communication and cultural competency. Communication is everything especially when you do a study with non-English speakers.

Being able to communicate with research participants in their language not only gives you rapport but it allows for research participants to express their wants and needs. Sometimes when we do research, we often forget that it has to be mutually beneficial. So, giving workers a platform to express their needs without fear of being reprimanded can lead to better worker health and outcomes.  Screen Shot 2022-05-04 at 4.38.11 PM[26]

How will your training/experience impact the field of occupational safety and health?

I hope that with my training, I can bridge my new knowledge with my previous experiences. I want to use my native language to bridge communication and cultural competency gaps that exist in the workplace. I want to create equitable workplaces where non-English speaking workers have the knowledge and resources to live and work without fear.
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What is the next step for you after exiting the program?

My hopes are to continue doing research and tapping into workplaces where Latinx people experience health disparities, whether in the U.S or internationally.