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Dr. Mireya Vilar-Compte

Associate Professor, Public Health

Posted in: Spotlights

Dr. Mireya Vilar-Compte

Department: Public Health

Degrees earned and institutions attended:

B.S., Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM), Mexico
MSc, The University of York, United Kingdom
MPhil, New York University, USA
Ph.D., New York University, USA

What was your college experience like?

Meeting some of my best friends.

Learning how to balance many different interests.

Finding my passion for public service and thriving to excel academically to have an impact socially.

Having my first part-time professional job and actually understanding how what I was learning in the classroom connected to the technical skills I needed in my job. This was fundamental to push me towards studying for a Master’s.

Did you go to college with the intention of being a professor? If not, how did your path bring you here?

No! During college I thought I was going to get into politics. But when I started working and getting to the upper-level classes I discovered that I had certain interests and abilities that were praised in academia. This was subsequently confirmed during my Master’s degree, I actually did my internship at an NGO working in Burkina Fasso (Africa) in projects related to access to water, where I conducted research based on a participatory needs assessment that led me to graduate with distinction (highest honor level in the English system), receiving comments such about my master’s thesis such as “this is a publishable work”, “well beyond the level of a master student, this is a real academic qualitative analysis”. After completing my Master’s, I decided to work for a couple of years in government, to make sure if my path tilted more towards politics or academia, and very soon I realized that my real path to contributing to public services and social wellbeing was through research. I then completed my PhD.

What is one thing you wish you had known during your undergraduate/graduate career? Why?

  • A big goal of education is finding your passion and your career path. And you can try different things to get the correct advice.
  • Never measure yourself or others based solely on grades, everyone has different paths and different abilities.

What is the best part about being an MSU faculty member?

Teaching in classrooms that are diverse in so many ways. It helps to ground my teaching and helps ignite my research. I always step in the classroom wishing that through the passion I have for public health I may contribute to inspiring young minds.

My colleagues.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A mess! I have 3 kids and 2 dogs, 105 students, and way too many research projects (I always have a hard time saying NO to new projects, they are all so important!)

In my professional life my days are mainly split into the teaching part (preparing the class and class materials, grading, responding to students’ emails, going to class, building new teaching materials), the research part (writing manuscripts, planning grants, talking to colleagues around the globe about different research projects, reading, running statistical analysis, help and mentor younger researchers, talking to the media, using social media, consulting for the WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank), and the “others” (reviewing manuscripts for journals, doing my editorial role at a couple of journals, participating in webinars, reaching out to stakeholders). No day is equal; all are messy, interesting motivating, challenging.

What are a few of your recent accomplishments?

  • Contributing to a global study about the impact of the marketing of formula companies on infant feeding choices. It was actually launched by the Director of WHO (you can follow the #endexplotativemarketing on Twitter and check all the reports). Five academic publications are in press linked to this project and I am the lead author in two of them. This project is important because it is linked to the social rights of families.
  • Being part of the research team that measured for the first time the Household Water Insecurity Scale in Mexico (which will inform many other countries in the Latin American Region). This project is part of a collaborative research project between MSU, Northwestern University, Yale School of Public Health, and Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. A press release was recently launched in which we show that 32% of the households in Mexico are water insecure. There has been a huge local media coverage (which recognizes the role of MSU). Several state governments in the country and the Mexican National Bureau of Statistics have reached out to learn more about the next steps. This project is important because it is linked to a basic human right: access to water.
  • Early this year I published a paper on how pre-COVID-19 vulnerabilities magnified the mortality and morbidity of Mexican American immigrants (mostly undocumented) in Los Angeles and New York City. I am currently contributing with UCLA and Universidad Iberoamericana in further learning how Mexican American immigrants have navigated access to healthcare services during the pandemic, and how community organizations have helped them. I was actually recently interviewed by National Geographic about this research and I am contributing with a journalist who is seeking to tell the COVID-immigrant story.

What is your favorite class to teach at MSU? Why?

I don’t really have a favorite class. I think I need to teach for a longer period at MSU to identify this.

What advice would you give to incoming students in order for them to succeed?

Study and find passion in what you are doing. Link it to your real-life experiences. Ask for help when you need it (there are many resources!). Participate actively in class: ask questions and do not take things at face value. Keep in mind that you are having the privilege of being at a higher education institution, not everyone around the world has this chance, so profit from it! Grow as a human being and as a future citizen.