Graduate Spotlight: María Isabel Roldós
Expected Graduation: Spring 2012
Degree Objective: Doctor of Public Health
Other Degrees: M.P.A. in Public Administration, M.S. in Economics
María Isabel Roldós’ doctoral research pursuits are a culmination of her past experiences across the Western Hemisphere.
In the United States, Roldós, a UGA public health doctoral student, has extensively worked toward improving public health policies and management. However, her interest in public health truly began at a nonprofit in her homeland, Ecuador.
At the Ecuadorian Center for Promotion and Action for Women, Roldós advanced women’s human rights by working on initiatives that addressed women’s reproductive health, domestic violence and women’s political participation.
“My passion was awakened when I started to work in a not-for-profit dedicated to protecting and promoting women’s human rights,” said Roldós. “My view on the promotion of economic development and health was changed forever, and a gender perspective has been from then on my point of view.”
Now at the UGA College of Public Health, Roldós combines her interests in economics, public health, sociology and culture to investigate how substance use adversely affects rural communities.
Funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Roldós investigates the relationship between substance abuse and labor productivity using longitudinal data gathered during a decade-long investigation, the Family and Community Health Study. A study of 800 families, the FACHS explores long-term family, parental, and community influences on rural African-American adolescents in Georgia and Iowa.
According to Roldós, a common assumption supporting substance abuse prevention and treatment programs is that substance use affects a person’s earnings or employment status. However, previous research has not always found a negative link between substance use during youth and lower future wages.
“My research intends to address two main gaps in the knowledge and research in this field,” said Roldos. “Little attention has been given to the study of this relationship among non-metropolitan African-American communities, and wages and earnings are inappropriate outcome measures for young adults from resource-deprived communities.”
To overcome this missing information, Roldós creates an earning potential index to estimate an individual’s wages based on his or her human capital, or their accumulation of work experiences, education, knowledge and personal connections.
By developing the earnings potential index, she can accurately measure how substance abuse during adolescence adversely affects future wages specific to rural communities.
“Wages and earnings may unfairly measure productivity gains in non-metropolitan African-American communities using the human capital approach,” said Roldós. “These communities are faced with a low supply of quality employment opportunities that translate to lower wages and are compounded by impoverished environments.”
Using the FACHS data, Roldós is creating a map that shows the history of how substance use changes among rural youth as they grow older. Her research requires a thorough understanding of substance abuse in these communities, because personal history can take years to have negative or positive effects on wages, Roldós explains.
Roldós’ research has the potential to be adapted to other minority populations in the United States and international communities.
“Political, race or ethnic minorities in other places of the world, unfortunately, experience the same health and economic disparities experienced by African-American families in rural settings,” she said.
After graduation, Roldós plans to pursue health policy challenges and create programs designed to prevent substance abuse wherever they arise.
“After finishing my degree, I hope to contribute to the field of prevention effectiveness through research and practice,” she said. “I hope to produce quality research that improves the distribution and allocation of resources for public health services in rural communities.”
Story by Ben Benson