A commitment to ensuring the health of all motivates Barbara Baquero’s work to connect classroom learning with the unique capabilities and health needs of local communities.
Baquero, who joined the University of Iowa College of Public Health as an assistant professor of community and behavioral health, is the deputy director of the UI Prevention Research Center. One of the center’s core projects is Active Ottumwa, a community-based initiative to combat obesity in this southeast Iowa town through increased physical activity. Working through local Physical Activity Leaders, Baquero and her students have developed and applied intervention plans including projects targeting childhood obesity and a community garden.
Students have said that these research opportunities help them realize the varied ways that public health can be applied, and now they are able to see disparities in communities where they would not have previously.
“These real-world applications open their eyes and give them a path to go forward and do good in the world,” Baquero says.
Not long after joining the college in 2012, Baquero also co-founded the UI’s Health Equity Advancement Lab (HEAL) with colleague Dr. Briana Woods-Jaeger, an adjunct assistant professor in the college. HEAL seeks to support academic-community engaged research that focuses on advancing well-being for all members of a community.
“We needed to create a space where conversations, trainings, and research on health equity could happen,” Baquero says. “We did not have anything like this when I arrived in Iowa.”
HEAL provides mentoring and research opportunities for students interested in learning about applying concepts of health equity to public health issues.
In the classroom, Baquero teaches how to design and implement public health interventions and conduct community-based participatory research.
“All our activities and projects are concrete and can be used in real time or in the community after completion,” she says. “I connect the role that students may have as leaders in public health and how they can impact health equity and social justice with their decisions.”
Originally from Venezuela, Baquero received her master’s and doctoral degrees in health promotion from San Diego State University. Her work focuses on identifying, understanding, implementing, and evaluating interventions in obesity and chronic disease prevention and control through the study of social, cultural, and structural factors. Much of her efforts work to reduce and eliminate health disparities for Latino immigrants in the U.S.