Trainee Spotlight: Nobel Hernández
Nobel Hernández is a doctoral student studying Public Health with a specialty in Social Determinants of Health at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus. He is expected to graduate in May 2023. He previously completed a Master of Public Health Education at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus. He has been working with PROTECT since late 2019 as a member of the Community Engagement Core (CEC) under the mentorship of Dr. Carmen Vélez-Vega. Nobel is a part of the team that works on report back, a process that delivers results of PROTECT research back to study participants so they can stay informed on their personal and environmental health. Outside of report back, Nobel also works on planning and implementing community outreach and research activities, writing progress reports about community outreach, organizing meetings with study participants, community health centers, and other research collaborators, and developing presentations for both science conferences and the communities PROTECT works with.
Nobel began his work with PROTECT when he resumed his second year as a doctoral student in late 2019 after Dr. Vélez-Vega approached him for the second time to discuss the project. At the time he began to work with center he was not completely aware of the scope of PROTECT, but he was drawn in early by the center’s philosophy. “I found this philosophy and idea [of community bonding and its importance in research] very pertinent and relevant to the diverse voices who are impacted by exposure to chemical substances and environmental pollutants [through Superfund sites], and how this in turn nourishes research,” he said.
PROTECT has become a major learning space for Nobel. Resources such as journals and webinars have given him the knowledge to make connections between environmental health and everyday life, such as the inequities of the world related to the social determinants of health that he studies. “I have seen how the structural aspects of politics, culture, racism, education, and gender relate to environmental health and maternal and child health,” he said. Because of these links and relationships, and because every person relies on the earth to live, Nobel believes that everyone should have at least some passion for environmental health. “Our common home needs great care and holds immense responsibility for humanity. There I think lies the importance of being passionate about environmental health and having social and political structures that allow the environment to be a space of health and well-being for all,” he said.
Nobel now gets to encourage people to share his passion for and awareness of environmental health through his work with PROTECT. He analyzes participant data on the report back team and works on enhancing the feature so participants can get the most out of it. His work with the rest of the team on this process ensures that PROTECT’s work is not insulated from the communities most affected by contamination from Superfund sites. Nobel also works with the community through the planning and implementation of community outreach activities and has been a part of several community engagement projects. The one he is most proud of is the #PROTECTResponde campaign from summer 2021. He played a role in the development of the campaign from brainstorming ideas to working on scripts, ultimately resulting in a campaign that demonstrated how science can be communicated. “The project showed the convergence between science and creativity, and how this convergence can open a space of new possibilities to make the information and knowledge produced in PROTECT’s work accessible,” he said.
Nobel remains passionate about his work with PROTECT because of the connection with the community and the people he works with every day. The participants, their families, the communities, and the researchers remain Nobel’s favorite part of PROTECT. The researchers and investigators he works with are supportive and intelligent, and it’s acknowledged that every person working in the center contributes something integral to the research. The participants and their families are the other major part of the experience, and they are the reason for and center of the study. “The families and communities are, in my opinion, what drives great people every day to work for health and equity,” he said.
There are more projects Nobel looks forward to working on. Within his report back work, he wants to make the feature virtual so that participants can access their data more easily. He also hopes to develop and submit a supplement that looks at the links between the environment, the social determinants of health, and child and maternal health. Above all, he looks forward to continuing his work with the people of PROTECT and engaging with the community.