Elijah Olivas

Elijah Olivas, Graduate student, Community and Behavioral Health

Strengthens health systems


What is your degree program and expected graduation date? I will be graduating with a Master of Public Health degree, with a concentration in Community and Behavioral Health, in May 2019.

Please describe your research: My research involves human development in global, low-resource contexts at the nexus of short-term, humanitarian relief and long-term, community centered development. I tend to incorporate quantitative measurements of systems dynamics (e.g. complex adaptive systems theory, health systems strengthening) with the ultimate goal of empowering universal autonomy to achieve individual happiness.

In simple terms, why does this research matter? Put simply, I aim to realize a reality where all are capable of creating happiness for themselves. Achieving this requires understanding – and addressing – all of the complex systems of politics, health, education, economics, society, and more that perpetuate marginalization by creating barriers for those with the fewest resources to cope and overcome.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I actually began research with some faculty members in my department a year or so prior to beginning my studies here. I reached out to researchers to offer assistance and have been involved in projects here and around the world ever since.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Research, for me, offers a sense of freedom in thought. I always knew that, while my program would teach me valuable methods for identifying and addressing systemic health problems, my long-term work would require knowledge from many different disciplines. Being involved in research projects (and subsequently exploring my own topics) has almost exclusively exposed me to the issues and problem-solving methodologies that are crucial to achieving my goals of reshaping the complex systems that perpetuate inequities in the pursuit of happiness. I am also grateful to have built a network of incredible connections based on my research projects, which is helping me determine my next steps toward applying my research to practice.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? I am in the midst of applying both to PhD programs and to careers in sustainable development and global health. I look forward to learning more about the complexities of all of the systems that underlie individual autonomy and the pursuit of happiness – the PhD program I am most interested in covers sustainable development and complex adaptive systems science – but I am also eager to begin using my research to catalyze change. Either way, in the long-run, I plan to further my education but to ultimately work with ministries of health and other government bureaus to plan systems for sustainable development.

Faculty mentor/advisor: Dr. William T. Story, PhD, MPH

Hometown: Chandler, Arizona



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