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UTEP Student Profile: Juan Aguilera

Last Updated on June 14, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published June 14, 2019

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

Juan Aguilera, an interdisciplinary health sciences doctoral student, is a campus leader who has seized the opportunities UTEP provides.

Juan Aguilera, an interdisciplinary health sciences doctoral student
Juan Aguilera, an interdisciplinary health sciences doctoral student

Name: Juan Aguilera

Classification: Doctoral student

Major: Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

What drew you to UTEP? I have a medical degree from Mexico, where I worked as a physician but also provided services to remote parts of the world via telemedicine. The latter developed my insight on different healthcare systems, which motivated me to earn a master’s degree in public health (MPH). My priority is serving in the Paso Del Norte region. UTEP is close to home and welcomes international students.

What have you enjoyed most about studying here? While at UTEP, I’ve enjoyed many opportunities to grow academically and professionally. I was awarded the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation Fellowship, which funded me to work at the Institute for Healthy Living (IHL) at UTEP. At the IHL, I learn about innovative approaches that promote healthy eating behaviors and increase physical activity in our region. With support of the fellowship, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary health sciences. My objective is to promote healthy eating and active living behaviors to decrease the negative effects of metabolic diseases.

In which extracurricular activities are you involved? This year I will serve as president of the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), which is the representative body for all graduate students on UTEP's campus. GSA provides a safe environment for students from various departments to meet and discuss issues unique to graduate students at UTEP. The goal of our meetings is to address immediate graduate student concerns. In addition, I serve in health-related student organizations including the Health Promotion Student Association; Clinicians, Physicians, and Researchers; and Students for Public Health.

What’s your favorite place to relax or study on campus? There is a small area behind Kelly Hall where I get some fresh air between long working hours. To study, I enjoy reading while walking around the Miner Canyon area during the evening.

What has been your favorite class so far, and why? During my MPH, my favorite class was environmental health with Gabriel Ibarra-Mejia. He incorporates dynamic teaching methods, which include video research projects, off-campus visits, guest speakers from both academic and industry sectors, and external judges for presentations. His class widened my perspective on how to apply my background in medicine to the environmental health field. From my Ph.D. courses, my favorite class was special topics in health with Dr. Leah Whigham. Her approach included a professional speed dating activity to learn about our classmates’ background. Afterward, we developed research projects incorporating our unique skillsets. The bonds we shared during that class led to innovative proposals that we hope to refine as we get closer to graduation.

Tell us about a hands-on learning experience you’ve had at UTEP? Thanks to the EPA-UTEP Air Quality Internship Program, I had the opportunity to conduct hands-on research in Ecuador. I provided cardiovascular and respiratory health assessments while an air quality team collected data on high traffic roads. The goal was to learn how small particles in the air relate to the participants’ health. This led me to further opportunities in air quality and health-related research. Currently, through the Center for Advancing Research in Transportation Emissions, Energy, and Health (CARTEEH), I collaborate in a study about how attending schools near heavy traffic roads impacts physical activity rates in children with asthma. My next step, as part of my Ph.D. program, is to research the associations of air pollutants with the cardiorrespiratory health of residents from low-income communities in El Paso.

What are your career aspirations? This past year, I published two manuscripts and presented at several conferences. It is my intention to continue disseminating the findings of our research. My future goal is to develop health programs focusing on the needs of the U.S.-Mexico border. For this, I aim to grow professionally within my community and network with members that desire the same. In addition, I want to expand my research skills, always keeping in mind that health sciences are professions of lifelong learning, and only by working together can we revert the current trends of metabolic diseases.

What’s your favorite UTEP event, and why? My favorite event is the Student Organization Leadership Retreat (SOLR). This four-day retreat is available for officers from student organizations at UTEP and includes a focus on personal leadership strengths, how to apply them to your organization, and how to impact the community at large. It is the first step of the SOL Series, a tetrad of programs aimed at enhancing self-knowledge and leadership competence.

What advice would you give to an incoming UTEP student? Take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities UTEP has to offer. Our community is filled with individuals willing to share their experience and collaborate. Seek the opportunities you dream instead of waiting for them to arrive.