Gaucho grad selected for national leadership program to build health equity

by Nicole Poletto, Professional Development Peer
Friday, October 06, 2017 11:16 AM

Mario Espinoza, a graduate student in the UCSB Sociology Department, was recently selected ​for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Policy Research Scholars program. Health Policy Research Scholars is a national leadership development program for second-year doctoral students who want to apply their research to help build healthier and more equitable communities. As a scholar, ​Mario will work to break down silos, address health disparities, and make communities healthier.

We caught up with ​Mario to discuss ​his ​research and what he is looking forward to with the program.


I founded a program dubbed Know Your Status in San Luis Obispo that aims to alleviate stigma from the HIV-positive community by hosting professionals to speak on special topics and provide access to free on-site HIV testing for college students. Since its inception in 2015, it has been adopted by a local non-profit in San Luis Obispo called the Access Support Network, which maintains the event on an annual basis. I am currently researching different criminal cases that revolve around the felony charge "Criminal Transmission of HIV" and how cases differ by race and the context of disclosure/non-disclosure.


My advanced research has to do with underserved populations such as migrant farmworkers and people that are HIV/AIDS-positive. Broadly speaking, I am working to identify opportunities to better advocate for these communities by using theories that consider gender, sexuality, and intersectionality. I want to work from and for these communities while working on issues pertinent in accessing care and addressing the structural and cultural barriers that exist to hinder the quality of living for people with HIV/AIDS. 


My first year, I received a departmental fellowship for my first year and a diversity grant for the summer of 2017. This allowed for me to find stable housing and experience graduate school at an introductory level that wasn't as demanding as it could have been had I not had funding for my first year. Approaching my second year now,​ my fellowship from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Policy Research Scholars program will relieve some of the pressures of grad school and allow me to fully engage with my research. I hope this program will help me expand my intellectual capacities by learning how to use research to speak to policy and political entities. 


As our country grows increasingly diverse, we must increase the diversity of researchers to ensure that policy exploration and development reflects a multitude of perspectives. My time as a scholar will develop my leadership and policy skills so I can have a direct impact on policy that would improve the quality of life for vulnerable populations.

Congratulations, ​Mario!