Using knowledge from SSA to establish the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training and Policy Center
Research Professor in Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Faculty Member, Center for Community Health and Center for Population Health Sciences, Institute for Public Health and Medicine
“I was part of the first group of ten Latino students actively recruited by SSA in 1968,” remembers Aida Giachello. ”This was a time when Latino issues were not on anyone’s radar screen, and there was little awareness and commitment to help us,” she recalls. A woman, who would later become a good friend, told her that SSA was making ten scholarships available for Latinos and encouraged her to apply.
“I was pregnant with my first child, and the day that I brought my new baby home from the hospital was the day that SSA informed me I was to start their program, in two months time. It turns out that SSA was a real pioneer in seeking out Latinos, and I was about to have a wonderful experience as a student at SSA.”
Naturally curious and driven to examine causes of circumstances affecting the lives of Latinos, Ms. Giachello’s journey to America from Puerto Rico was distinctive. “My husband and I came to the United States because I was offered a contract from Northwestern University to continue a research project I had started in Puerto Rico. I was collecting data on social changes in Puerto Rico and surrounding islands, and Northwestern brought me to their Evanston campus to conduct a followup and analysis of the study and data. After I got my bachelor’s degree, I was hired as a researcher in a local psychology clinic doing studies and traveling throughout Puerto Rico and many other islands. Gradually, I developed a program for data collection.
Ms. Giachello is an associate professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois-Chicago, and founder and director of the UIC-JACSW Midwest Latino Health Research, Training, and Policy Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in social science from the University of Puerto Rico, a master’s degree from the School of Service Administration (1971), specializing in community work, planning, and social policy, and a doctorate in medical sociology from the University of Chicago (1988), specializing in minority/ Latino health.
In reflecting on her experiences at SSA, Ms. Giachello remembers the challenges, and a dedicated community of students and faculty helping each other. “My first year at SSA was very difficult because my English was not that good. I knew I was being challenged, but I went to classes with my new baby and, amid all the protests that were a part of the late sixties, I managed to get a wonderful education. At that time, the community organization concentration had some really active and aggressive community organizers and that made for interesting sessions. They turned out to be a wonderful group of students and I am still in touch with some of them. The professors could not have been more helpful and we never felt left out.”
Ms. Giachello’s class and fieldwork prepared her well to be a community leader. “The community organization concentration helped me develop the skills and knowledge of community organizing, social policy, community planning, and a number of activities that would greatly benefit me in what I would eventually do at the Center. I thought I knew a lot about community organizing, but SSA taught me how to really organize a community and get everyone involved. SSA also gave me a clear understanding of the social justice issues and the role of critical thinking in targeting the community as a whole and not just in parts.” With that knowledge, she was able to establish the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training and Policy Center in 1993. “SSA taught me the techniques to mobilize the community and to eventually do community based participatory research.” Today her center conducts research throughout Illinois and in ten Midwestern states. “Our work is valued and recognized throughout the country,” she says. “I pioneered new research techniques thanks to SSA and developed my capabilities for getting the community involved and training others to be a real part of the data collection, and not just a statistic. I don’t have words to thank SSA for all they taught me. I am trying to pass it all to others.”
In January 2014, Ms. Giachello received a University of Chicago Diversity Award for bringing social justice to the Latino community through her contributions to public health research. She continues to research social and racial health disparities, particularly among Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans.