Makayla Morales

Makayla Morales, MPH student, community and behavioral health

Examines unique challenges for migrants

“Makayla has demonstrated remarkable creativity and drive as she develops an innovative scholarly argument to educate fellow researchers and practitioners in the field of public health about the unique strengths and challenges faced by Central American migrants to the US.” -Nicole Novak, research assistant professor

Toulon, Illinois

Faculty mentor/advisor:
Nicole Novak, PhD, MSc, research assistant professor, community and behavioral health, College of Public Health

What is your degree program and anticipated graduation date?
I am a second year MPH student in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the College of Public Health. I expect to graduate in May 2024.

Please describe your research:
My research is focused on understanding the motivations and migration experiences of individuals from Latin America, with a particular emphasis on Central American migrants coming to the United States. Through an examination of this unique Latine population in both the Midwest and across the nation, I have documented changes in this group since 1975, especially in relation to significant US policy changes and events in Central America. In essence, my research and advocacy center on achieving health justice for this population, highlighting the necessity for continued research and action to enhance the well-being of Central American migrants.

In simple terms, why does this research matter?
This research is significant because it challenges the common practice of grouping all Latine migrants together, despite the diversity among Latine communities and the varying factors that influence migration among different Latine nationalities. Focusing on subgroup-level research and interventions, such as examining the experiences of Central Americans, allows us to gain a deeper understanding of their unique challenges on the migrant trail and after arrival in the United States. For instance, Central Americans have endured years of chronic violence, political corruption, poverty, and social unrest, which significantly heightens their vulnerability during and after migration. Traditional, one-size-fits-all approaches to Latine migration research often fail to capture these distinctive challenges.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research?
I began my research journey during the first semester of my sophomore year when I joined Dr. Shannon Lea Watkins’ research team.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa?
My early involvement in research has been instrumental in my academic success at the University of Iowa. It not only allowed me to become a published first author of a research article as an undergraduate but also directly influenced my decision to pursue a Master of Public Health. Through my research experiences, I gained a deeper understanding of public health principles and theories and their practical application in real-world settings.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation?
After graduation, I intend to secure a fellowship centered on health equity. I’m eager to enter the workforce as a health equity program specialist or as a member of an organization focused on advancing the health and rights of immigrants and refugees. Ultimately, my career goal includes earning a PhD and working with a national or global institution to drive positive change in marginalized populations, especially those affected by internal or external displacement due to conflicts and climate change.

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