RWJF Center for Health Policy at UNM

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Doctoral Fellows

Carmela Roybal

RWJF Doctoral Fellow, Sociology

Carmela Roybal is a PhD candidate with the Department of Sociology. A native New Mexican, Carmela's specialization is in the sociology of health, race and ethnicity, with an emphasis on the social determinants of mental health of American Indians and Latinos.  Her current research examines substance abuse patterns and suicide among American Indians and Latinos, in which she incorporates indigenous approaches to mental health.

Research Interests 

Carmela Roybal is a PhD student with the Department of Sociology. A native New Mexican, Carmela's specialization is in the sociology of health, race and ethnicity, with an emphasis on the social determinants of mental health of American Indians and Latinos. Her current research examines substance abuse patterns and suicide among American Indias and Latinos, in which she incorporates indigenous approaches to mental health.

Joaquin Rubalcaba

Doctoral Fellow

I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of Economics at the University of New Mexico, where I also maintain a research fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy. I have progressed to candidacy with training focused on labor, health, and public economics, applied econometrics, immigration, and policy analysis. My lived and professional experiences have tremendously impacted my desire to become an economist and has shaped the lens in which I formulate new research questions and structure my pedagogical strategy.

Research Interests 

As a researcher, I have investigated labor market dynamics affecting wage and labor supply as well as the unintended consequences of public policy on health quality and labor market outcomes. I am focused on furthering the economic understanding of health, labor, and public policies that gives insight into the socioeconomic disparities of minority groups. Overall, the quality and development of my research has had a direct impact on my ability to teach, influence and mentor students all levels. I believe that exposure to diversity in both thought and lived experiences are essential to the intellectual development of students and the development of economics as a profession.

Patricia Rodriguez Espinosa, MS

RWJF Center for Health Policy Doctoral Fellow
Psychology and Public Health

Patricia Rodriguez Espinosa, M.S., is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Mexico and Dissertation Fellow at the RWJF Center for Health Policy. Ms. Rodriguez Espinosa is pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology as well as Masters of Public Health in the School of Medicine. A native of Habana, Cuba, Patricia moved to the United States in 2007, going on to graduate with a B.S. in Psychology in 2010 and immediately starting her doctoral degree. She received her Master’s in Science degree in Psychology in 2013 after defending her thesis with distinctions in the Department of Psychology at UNM. Patricia’s direct experiences with immigration have become the starting point for her research agenda focusing on immigrant and Latino health in the United Stated. 

Research Interests 

Ms. Rodriguez Espinosa’s research concentrates on immigrant Latinos, minority health and health disparities. Her current research investigates the interaction between cultural adaptation processes, social mobility trajectories, and social determinants of health, particularly the role of neighborhood-level factors in determining immigrant Latino health. Some of her research has also centered on discrimination, racial/ethnic identity and health, as well as the role of research orientations such as Community-Based Participatory Research in advancing Latino health and reducing the health disparities gap. Additionally, she is interested in how advanced statistical models such as growth mixture models can be applied to the study of both Latino and immigrant health over time and the Latino paradox. 

Recent Accomplishments 

Ms. Rodriguez Espinosa has recently submitted her dissertation research in application for a NIH F31 Fellowship with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. Patricia was awarded the RWJF Fellow of the Year Leadership award for the 2014-2015 academic year. She is also a recent recipient of the American Psychological Association Minority Fellowship. As part of this program, she spent a week in Washington DC at the APA and had the opportunity to advocate in Capitol Hill for programs investing in training of racial/ethnic minority researchers and practitioners. 

Yoshira D. Macias Mejia

RWJF Center for Health Policy Doctoral Fellow
Political Science

Yoshira D. Macias Mejia is a doctoral student in the department of political science. She is a first generation Mexican American and Southern California native. She graduated from California State University, Northridge with her bachelor’s degree in Political Science. She also holds a M.A. in American Politics and Public Policy from the University of New Mexico. She has been graduate intern at the New Mexico State Department of Health. Through this internship she was able to gain insight as to how health policies affect non-English language speakers in New Mexico. This informs her research because she is able to use this knowledge for her future field work in New Mexico. Her rationale for pursuing health equity issues stem primarily from personal experience with family members.

Research Interests 

Yoshira’s research interests focus on the subfields of American Politics and Comparative Politics within the larger field of Political Science. Her research examines how Latina immigrant women balance work and family life and the effects of family policies have on promoting easier work balance. Her research seeks to examine work and family balance given the current shifts in family structures. Her research centers on examining what policies the United States has passed historically and the contemporary consequences of these policies on the modern Latino immigrant family. Her methodological approach is a mixed-methods research design to gauge both individual and demographic family factors. She will contribute to the field of American Politics and Social and Health Policy through her research.

Kristina Nicole Piorkowski MA, Economics

RWJF Center for Health Policy Doctoral Fellow

Kristina Piorkowski is a doctoral student in the Department of Economics at the University of New Mexico. She recently earned her Master’s degree in Economics in spring of 2015 and obtained her Bachelors in Economics in 2013, also at the University of New Mexico. Her undergraduate honors thesis focused on rural health in Nepal, specifically on the factors affecting birthing location decisions. Her interest in health equity issues began in high school when she decided she wanted to be a medical doctor to provide care to underserved populations. After discovering she had a squeamish stomach and, eventually, a passion for economics, she decided to use her research in health economics as a tool to analyze and inform policy to eliminate health disparities.

Research Interests 

In 2010 the CDC announced six “winnable battles” in public health, including tobacco use, obesity, and teen pregnancy. Five of what has grown to now seven battles concern attempting to alter behavioral patterns. In order to achieve these goals, detailed research is required on understudied segments of the U.S. population. Kristina’s research focuses on filling the gap in the literature about why women engage in risky health behaviors, including smoking and obesity, and why they do or do not respond to canonical economic incentives and policies. This research will contribute to the field of health economics with implications for feminist economics and public policy.

Recent Accomplishments 

RWJF Center for Health Policy Doctoral Fellowship 2013-2018

Melina Juárez

RWJF Center for Health Policy Doctoral Fellow

Melina was born and raised in a small, rural, farm community in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Her parents are Mexican immigrants from Guanajuato, Mexico who have inspired and pushed her to continue her education.
She received her B.A. in political science from California State University, Stanislaus and completed her M.A. in Trans-Atlantic Politics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her M.A. thesis explored South-North migration with a focus on Mexico-U.S. and Morocco-Spain immigration issues. Her thesis analyzed push-and-pull factors of immigration, immigration policies, and the politics behind reclassifying immigrants as economic refugees.
Along with her academic work, Melina is also an active part of her community. She is part of the Raza Graduate Student Association and various grassroots organizations and campaigns that tackle issues relating to immigration/immigrant rights, ethnic studies and education access, and LGBTQ issues.

Research Interests 

Her parents and family inspire Melina’s research. Growing up in an immigrant household and community, working side by side with her parents in the fields, and having to be their guide through a system that she barely understood, made her realize the important implications of ill-informed policy for immigrant communities and communities of color. 
Melina studies the effects of public policy on immigrant health, focusing on immigrants of Latin American origin and specifically on the health of women and youth. Because having immigrant status places you in a complex and subordinate position in our society, Melina believes that traditional or mainstream theories of political science are often not enough to explain the realities of the immigrant experience. She therefore utilizes theories that speak to and incorporate the lived realities of marginalized peoples, including theories of embodiment, historical trauma, Critical Race Theory, and Marxism. Her work aims to develop a critical understanding of the structures of power and privilege that inform policy and ultimately affect immigrant health. 
In addition to her work at UNM and the Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy, Melina is part of an international, interdisciplinary research group studying labor gray zones. Here she focuses on analyzing the confluence of labor and immigration laws and regulations and how the convergence of these policy spheres produces sociopolitical gray zones that ultimately affect the health and well-being of Latinxs and immigrants.

Recent Accomplishments 
  • Fall 2015: Visiting Graduate Fellow Center for Poverty Research, University of California, Davis 
  • Fall 2015. “Under Siege: Mexican Immigrant Women in the United States,” in Gerard Gomez and Donna Kesselman, Dossier: Femmes au travail dans les Ameriques, Presses Universitaires de Provence.
  • Summer 2015: Fund for Latino Scholarship Recipient
  • Summer 2015: “Transgender Rights and Communities of Color.” Politics of Color blog, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, & Politics.

Veronica Salinas

RWJF Center for Heath Policy Doctoral Fellow
505 277-5304

Ms. Salinas is a doctoral student in the department of economics.

Belinda Vicuña

RWJF Center for Health Policy Doctoral Fellow

Belinda Vicuña has received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology (double major) and Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of New Mexico. For Belinda, New Mexico is home, but she is certainly proud to claim her roots in Bolivia. She feels strongly about health equity/social justice, which has led her to bridge psychology and public health with her research. Taking a strengths-based approach, it is her aim to appreciate the importance of resilience within individuals and communities. Especially among marginalized and underserved communities, resiliency resources (for example: culture, family, or spirituality) can be greatly influential in promoting health. Belinda’s greatest motivation is to serve her community through her research in cancer prevention, finding the place where her deepest desire meets the greatest need.

Research Interests 

Research Interests

Belinda Vicuña’s research centers on cancer control and prevention, in particular among Hispanic/Latino communities, both locally in New Mexico and in the U.S. as a whole. Motivated from a health equity approach, her goal is to engage in research that challenges and confronts cancer health disparities. Her primary research interests focus on efforts that aim to refine and evaluate culturally-centered approaches and interventions to be most effective in promoting and facilitating cancer prevention among Latino communities. Her dissertation explores the role, significance, and impact of spirituality/religiosity on engagement in cancer risk assessment (genetic counseling) among Latina women at increased risk for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer.

Recent Accomplishments 

2015 University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center Matching Support Pilot Project Award for Dissertation Research
2014 University of New Mexico La Raza Latino/a Fellowship
2014 Scholarship to attend the 12th Disparities in Health in America: Working Towards Social Justice Workshop, Houston, TX, June 23-28, 2014.
2013 University of New Mexico, Department of Psychology. Highest Graduate Student Teaching (IDEA) Rating for a Small Course Teaching Award