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Claudia Diaz-Combs

Claudia Diaz-Combs

MPH Environmental & Occupational Health

“I have been part of MEZCOPH for almost two years now and have learned so much about my field of study already. I think the faculty that we have are very committed to their students first and foremost, and that is clear through the content that we learn and the way we are treated. I have also had the opportunity to participate in field research with the faculty, and that first hand experience has been one of the best experiences I have had thus far because I have been able to work in the community, which is why I became interested in public health in the first place.”

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    Tucson, AZ

    Prior Degree(s):

    BS in Environmental Science - University of Arizona

    Before entering the program:

    Before entering the MPH program at the University of Arizona, I was working for a non profit organization called Environmental Education Exchange. We worked with Tucson Water, Tucson Environmental Services, and TEP in order to create curriculum to teach in elementary, middle, and high schools on water conservation, recycling, and electricity and power. I was part of the Education Outreach team and would go to three or four schools a week and teach lessons on these topics to the students. I did this for two years in between undergraduate and graduate school.

    Why did you choose public health?

    When I was an undergraduate, I worked in several laboratories, including the famous Tree Ring Lab on campus on issues with changing climates. I enjoyed the lab work, but I felt as though there was a lack of focus on how the changing climates, rising temperatures, etc. would affect people, especially vulnerable populations in developing countries. While I find applied laboratory work extremely crucial for all research, I was more interested in being in the field and working with people, and that is where public health fits perfectly, especially the Environmental Health track, because it combines both the applied lab work and field work that I believe makes research well rounded.

    Why did you choose MEZCOPH?

    I took the 575 Environmental and Occupational Health Course as a non degree seeking student and was completely fascinated with the topic. This particular class incorporates lectures from all the professors in the Environmental and Occupation Program, and I was interested in all of their lectures. Dr. Mary Kay O’Rourke was the professor of the course at the time and I enjoyed the content of the class tremendously. I knew that I wanted to learn from these professors, so after taking that course I decided to apply for the program.

    Public health interests:

    Environmental health, oil spills, South America, indigenous populations, farmers, exposures to oil in water, water contamination


    I want to combine my Latin American Studies and Public Health research. My research for Latin American Studies is looking at the relationship between oil development in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the vulnerable populations that live near where that is happening (indigenous people and rural farmers). Specifically, I am looking at an ongoing lawsuit between 30,000 Ecuadorians and Chevron Corporations over damages to indigenous land and health of those who drank the contaminated water that Chevron polluted with their operations in a town called Lago Agrio. I am looking at the actions that people have taken against Chevron and how they demonstrate their resistance against multinational oil companies. While this part of my research is heavily social science based, for my public health research I would actually like to test the water for contaminants to see what still remains. Chevron has claimed to have remediated the area completely, but there are many reports that this is not true. I want to test the water in several areas in Lago Agrio to see how far the contamination has dispersed along the river, which is one of the main sources of water for those who live in the city.

    Interests/hobbies outside of school:

    I play on several soccer teams in Tucson, including University of Arizona intramurals, and I also coach 9 and 10 year old boys in a local club here. I also enjoy boxing, kickboxing, and yoga, activities that really pair well with being in graduate school.

    Tip for future students:

    Many students might feel intimidated approaching their faculty during office hours, but I highly recommend it. This shows initiative to really understand the content of the work that is assigned, and I believe that professors truly notice this effort. I have had classes that I have struggled with in the past, and after going to see the professor about specific questions, I had a much better understanding of the content.

The University of Arizona