Q&A with Daniel Madrigal

daniel madrigalDaniel Madrigal MPH '10 works as a health educator for the California Environmental Health Tracking Program to make environmental health information accessible and practical for the residents of California. From 2010 to 2015, he ran the community engagement program of the CHAMACOS study, a longitudinal birth cohort study of farmworker families in the Salinas Valley. His interests include immigration, environmental justice, community engaged research, and developing a diverse public health workforce.

Q. Tell us about your position at CEHTP.
A. As a health educator with the California Environmental Health Tracking Program, I spend my time figuring out the best ways to communicate our work linking health and the environment. Our program collects and manages environmental health data, and we make it available to the public and to people working on these issues. We also conduct our own analyses—for example, two years ago we put out a report on agriculture pesticide use near schools, and this year we did one on the costs of children’s environmental health conditions. A lot of this data is public information, but hard to access or interpret, so what we do is try to make a better connection between environmental hazards and health.

Q. What do you like most about your job?
A. The work is super interesting, particularly the challenge of communicating environmental health in such a large and diverse state. And new technologies allow us to collect and analyze data like never before. But what I like most about my job is working with a team that values the collaborative approach. We have a ton of talent in research, policy, tech, mapmaking, and communication. Everybody works really well together, not just within the group but with our partners as well. I know that I am fortunate to have found my way to this team.

Q. What is most challenging about your job?
A. The challenge that I wrestle with more than any other is how to communicate the concept of environmental health—the idea that our surroundings play a big role in our health. I’m talking about universal access to clean air, water, and food, not about saving polar bears or redwood trees (although they also need help). At CEHTP, we make data available on our website—such as air quality, water quality, and rates of environmentally related diseases—so people can learn about these issues and the real impacts and costs.

Q. Tell us more about one of the projects you have worked on this year.
A. One of the first projects that I had when I joined in March 2015 was to help with the communications on a report we did looking at the costs of childhood health conditions related to the environment. We looked at the economic costs linked to four conditions—asthma, cancer, neurobehavioral disorders, and lead-poisoning—taking into account the costs of health care expenditures and other costs associated with these conditions. Sometimes the other costs can be more expensive—things like lost wages, diminished productivity. To help people understand the report, I created a series of infographics about each of the four conditions. It helps make the information a little stickier when we highlight the key messages visually in a manner that is easy to understand.

Q. How did the education you received at the SPH help you in your current work?
A. My Berkeley SPH experience helped me better understand how broad the field of public health is, and that we all have a role to play. It makes me value all the folks who are doing their thing, whether it is research, practice, policy or whatever; we all get further along when we are working together. I was impressed by the wide range of projects and passions of my professors and fellow students, and you can’t help but be inspired and want to keep up when you see what everyone else is doing.

Q. What motivated you to become involved with the PHAA Board?
A. Current president Baljeet Sangha is a friend of mine; we both were students at the same time and were part of the MultiCultural Student Organization. We were both interested in creating an inclusive space for students from diverse backgrounds, so joining the board seemed like a great way to continue that work as an alum. Also, I liked the idea of connecting with others who came through the program and were doing work locally.

Q. How do you contribute to the PHAA Board?
A. Currently, I serve as the chair of the Recruitment and Diversity Committee. I participate at many alumni functions, talking about my experience in the program with prospective and current students, and also help the School with diversity issues. This past year has been a busy one at the School with the rise of the Black Lives Matter student group and the renewed attention to inclusion and equity.

Q. What have you learned or experienced that you would like to share with fellow alumni?
A. First, it’s been great to meet new people connected with the School—students, staff, and alumni who do fascinating and vital work in their chosen fields. Second, it’s been great to learn about the Dean’s Speaker Series that brings public health legends to Berkeley. This past fall, the School hosted Sir Michael Marmot, a pioneer of research into the social determinants of health. And in February, Dr. Camara Jones, who has fantastic public health allegories, will speak. It’s an exciting time for the School.