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International Student Pursues Social Justice and Environmental Health

Student at international conference

October 11, 2023

Victoria Rodríguez Villarreal is currently midway through her undergraduate education at Drexel University, now entering her junior year. An international student, she is from Monterrey, Mexico. Committing to Drexel from nearly 2,000 miles away was not an easy choice but one that was made easier by the benefits of the university such as its urban location, co-op learning opportunities, and global health experiences.  

“I arrived by Amtrak from New York, visiting and seeing for the first time the city that would transform into home for the next four years,” she shared. “I remember that the first thing I noticed when heading out of the station was the Drexel flags, and all I thought about was this is the place, the moment, and the start of my journey.” 

The past two years have proven to be what Rodríguez Villarreal hoped for. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Public Health with a minor in Social Entrepreneurship and Climate Change. The Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) was founded on the principle of health as a human right and the recognition of the importance of social justice to achieve health for everyone, which really resonated with her. 

"My passion lies in fighting for social justice by advocating and creating policies, practices, and interventions at the intersection of environmental justice, health, and human rights. Climate change and its effects are all around us. Understanding the impact of climate change on human health is crucial for increasing accessibility through education and community integration of public health practices," she said. 

Beyond the classroom, she was able to put her coursework into practice when she spent three months working alongside World Vision’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team in the South African country of Eswatini as a Dornsife Global Development Scholar. There, she supported staff in improving WASH infrastructure while considering conflict, climate change challenges, and COVID-19. She specifically led a research project evaluating the impact of safely managed WASH facilities on menstrual health in rural schools within the Shewula Area Program. 

“This experience reignited within me the passion and drive that I started this journey with and my commitment to working with marginalized communities and promoting health equity,” she said. “I could see firsthand the power of community engagement and participation to achieve the desired outcomes and for the overall sustainability of it.” 

Prior to this experience, Rodríguez Villarreal was involved in Global Citizen Year Certification, the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum. Each allowed her to help raise awareness about the climate crisis from gender, human rights, and Latin America perspectives. 

Additionally, Rodríguez Villarreal is actively involved in the Sanitation Health Aid Relief Project (SHARP), the Dornsife Undergraduate Student Government Organization (DUSGO), and the Civic Engagement Committee of the Undergraduate Student Government (USGA). She also serves as a representative on Drexel's Student Leadership Council on Climate and Sustainability

After graduation, she hopes to join an international nonprofit focused on environmental justice. There she hopes to bring her skills and experiences to create sustainable and innovative solutions, raise awareness of environmental health concerns, and advocate for policy action. 

Learn more about Dornsife Undergraduate Public Health Programs