Santiago Internship Story: Researching Social Determinants of Occupational Health

September 09, 2022

MacKenzie Isaac (TC’22), Master’s in Health Education from Teachers College, is one of the 21 students that participated this northern hemisphere summer in the Santiago Center-organized Global Virtual Internship Program, where she has worked with Universidad Mayor’s Research Center on Society and Health (CISS). The following is her story on her undertaking with CISS.

I have spent this summer working directly with Benjamin Jara, a health economist, and Esteban Calvo, Principal Investigator for the Lab on Aging and Social Epidemiology. Based at the Universidad Mayor’s CISS in Santiago, Chile, their current research primarily examines workplace well-being and promotes positive aging processes for workers. I have led publication preparations for a review paper on how to more inclusively measure employment quality across lines of gender, age, and socioeconomic status. My work with Drs. Jara and Calvo will extend into the fall as I continue updating the paper to include data on other identity-related/social determinants of occupational health and commentary on how metrics of workplace well-being have shifted (and will need to keep shifting) in light of Covid-19.

As an aspiring social epidemiologist - I hope to one day become State Epidemiologist in my home state of Indiana - I have cherished the opportunity to merge my interests in community health and life course sociology to contribute to new ways of conceptualizing individual health (and systemic health equity) in the spaces where we work, which are deeply and often inextricably bound up with the spaces where we learn, recreate, and rest. These interests are worth rigorous academic inquiry, but they also require community-based dialogues and collective action. Drs. Jara and Calvo have an appreciation for this truth, so they have also allowed me to propose formatting and content revisions for their research websites in efforts to make them more accessible, user-friendly, and explicitly equity-oriented for academic and non-academic audiences alike.

I firmly believe that State Epidemiologists have vast potential to assume the roles of public servants and community mobilizers. These roles require science communication that is not only precise, but understandable, culturally sustaining, and effective gateways to balanced and authentic conversations with marginalized communities. As I embark on my Masters in Modelling for Global Health at the University of Oxford this fall, I will carry the lessons in research, synthesis, and translation that I learned - and will continue to learn - from Drs. Jara and Calvo with gratitude.

I move to the UK this September to begin my tenure as a Rhodes Scholar, and I can't quite stress enough how much tea I plan to drink. I also have a passion for song - particularly gospel music - and I look forward to joining a worship choir and participating in as many interfaith dialogues as I can on Oxford's campus. When I'm not singing, reading dystopian novels, or studying (all over tea), I hope to rediscover my love of volleyball and learn how to prep plant-based meals.