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Crusading for health equality

Growing up in Mexico City and, later, studying at Princeton University, Dolores Acevedo-Garcia was keenly aware that people don’t always get an equal chance at life’s opportunities.

As a child, she noticed wide disparities in health and living standards among the residents of her city. This awareness accompanied her to bucolic Princeton, where she earned a master’s in public affairs and urban and regional planning, and a PhD in public policy and demography.

Her early experiences helped her build a stellar career researching the social determinants of racial and ethnic disparities in health. She studies how residential segregation, neighborhood environment, immigration and social policies affect the health and well being of certain populations, including vulnerable children.

This fall, Acevedo-Garcia joined Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences as an associate professor of health science and the associate director of the Institute on Urban Health Research. Previously, she was an associate professor of society, human development and health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Northeastern’s emphasis on translational research makes the university a natural fit for her, she explains. A real-world approach “is so highly valued here,” she says. “It is encouraged; it is part of the essence of Northeastern. In that sense, it’s a unique place.”

The university’s commitment to innovative research—and the opportunity to get in early on initiatives—also attracted her, she says.

Acevedo-Garcia is already deeply involved with urban and equity initiatives in Boston, as a member of the advisory committee for Boston’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice and the past cochair of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston’s board of directors. She plans to enhance Northeastern’s commitment to urban engagement over the coming years.

“I will be able to add a substantial body of work to the significant research already being done by the Institute on Urban Health Research and director Hortensia Amaro,” she says.

And Acevedo-Garcia intends to strengthen an initiative called DiversityData, which she started at Harvard through a $2 million W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant. DiversityData will enable researchers to chart racial and ethnic equity in U.S. metropolitan areas.

“My goal is to make it a more comprehensive and useful data-driven tool for people working toward improving the lives of vulnerable children,” she says. “I’m looking to incorporate information on policies that may help those children and promote equity.”

Today, with numerous academic awards and publications to her credit, Acevedo-Garcia remembers how her student years shaped her.

“I have a clear memory of the people working in the dorms and kitchens at Princeton,” she says. “Many of them were African-American. And yet it was very rare to find an African-American graduate student attending classes there.

“After that, I was always aware of how opportunities differ for so many reasons, including geographic, racial and socioeconomic reasons.”

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