Environmental and Occupational Health
Sciences

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Student 4

Felipe Tendick Matesanz

MS (2013)
Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

Current Position: Program Coordinator at ROC United

 

What degree(s) did you obtain at UIC in SPH?

I earned the Master of Science in Summer 2013 from the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

What job did you obtain following graduation?

If possible, I’d like to stay away from language like “job” and focus more on work. When we talk about job versus work, I think that it puts focus on your title and rank versus the actual work being done. The work I’ve been doing is deeply embedded in the fair food movement. Most recently it has been providing leadership with advocacy and workforce development work on what we call the high road to profitability. My role in leadership was to provide supervision and management for several teams across the nation, in twelve different cities with sometimes forty to fifty colleagues at a time trying to coordinate projects for our “High Road” work. The organization I’ve been working with and for is the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, which is a national non-profit organization working to improve wages and working conditions in the restaurant industry. ROC started as a worker center, and has since evolved into a hybrid worker center/advocacy campaign organization in more recent years. My role has allowed me to learn and grow in a very powerful way—we’ve been having deep conversations for the past year about where I may best serve our mission which led to the creation of a new area of work. My future work will be a combination of development, writing and developing our financial backing, and knowledge management, which is the aim to gathering institutional knowledge to better train our staff and to better articulate our mission and work externally. My goal is to strengthen and create a cohesive understanding of our story and accomplishments externally and one in which we’re very connected to internally across the entire nation.

What are you doing day-to-day?

This is a bit speculative because the role is new, but I’m in a unique position because I’ve been with the organization for over seven years, first as a member, then a leader, then local staff to where I am now as national staff. Over the last six months my day to day has been researching potential funding streams, assisting with grant writing, aligning those prospective funding streams with organizational goals on a local and national level. I’ve also been conducting a needs assessment here in Chicago for childcare needs of restaurant workers— there is a strong chance this will result in an exciting pilot project that addresses the limited resources for parents with non-traditional schedules experience. In the mean time, I am also working to finish our “High Road” Employer’s Survey, which is a Diner’s Guide that educates people on working conditions in restaurants. Here we survey the top grossing restaurants, and our own network of restaurants— restaurants that have practices better than the norm in wages, benefits, and upward mobility. Interestingly, this project will coincide with the upcoming publishing of a book from our co-founder that documents the history of tipping in the United States and an app overhaul that we hope changes the way people think when dining “in” or “out”. With the development of the new role, I’m hoping that this year I’ll get a chance to dig deep and do some system improvements type of work internally.

What excites you most about this job?

At first it was an uphill battle, I did not see the immediate connection to my job and I was determined to find ways to apply the knowledge I gained. Naturally, I started realizing that many of the skills I learned in EOHS were immediately applicable. For example, working with professors to write a grant or an IRB proposal and the experience I gained from that process has been helpful. Working with Dr. Joe Zanoni and Dr. Linda Forst on “More Than Training” was huge for me. I applied a lot of the learning I gained from that experience when making phone calls, recording information, and interviewing workers. Another example was working in multidisciplinary teams like the Targeted Research Training (TRT) groups or the teams I encountered while performing my Master’s Thesis work with Engineers without Borders. Both of those experiences prepared me for working with different teams and in a way prepared me for how to work with people that are far away geographically and utilize new forms of communication.

How do you feel that the SPH graduate program at UIC prepared you for this job?

At first it was an uphill battle, I did not see the immediate connection to my job and I was determined to find ways to apply the knowledge I gained. Naturally, I started realizing that many of the skills I learned in EOHS were immediately applicable. For example, working with professors to write a grant or an IRB proposal and the experience I gained from that process has been helpful. Working with Dr. Joe Zanoni and Dr. Linda Forst on “More Than Training” was huge for me. I applied a lot of the learning I gained from that experience when making phone calls, recording information, and interviewing workers. Another example was working in multidisciplinary teams like the Targeted Research Training (TRT) groups or the teams I encountered while performing my Master’s Thesis work with Engineers without Borders. Both of those experiences prepared me for working with different teams and in a way prepared me for how to work with people that are far away geographically and utilize new forms of communication.

What attracted you to UIC's program, as opposed to other schools?

I had the opportunity to do a lot of careful soul searching prior to selecting this program, and this just seemed like the right path. I also had a strong desire to stay in the area and really wanted to join EOHS because I was interested in environmental exposures to food and its impact on community health. Having multiple conversations with faculty about the work I had been doing at ROC, and some sharing of opportunities unknown to me convinced me that EOHS would be the right fit for me.

What was your favorite aspect of the program?

Opportunities. There was certainly more than enough once you started asking. EOHS Faculty met me with open arms, and even better, they found a place for me despite not having a deep background in their area. Having the chance to sample sediment on Lake Superior with Dr. An Li or sampling water on the Chicago beaches with Dr. Samuel Dorevitch, both of those experiences made me more well rounded were some of my favorite moments.

Can you think of a particularly memorable aspect of your experience?

The thesis was a huge struggle for me; it challenged me on so many different levels. The fact that I had opportunity to travel to a foreign country to accomplish that was great. I was a real part of a community, where I worked to help lessen the issues they encountered, and I am still part of that today struggling to complete what we started.

Were there staff/faculty members who made a notable impact on you?

Everyone in EOHS made an impact. Dr. Linda Forst got me in the door, had it not been for her I would likely be on a completely different path. Dr. Joe Zanoni and Marsha Love were like a godsend and I still try to work with them both whenever I can because not only does their community work perfectly align with mine, but they have also been a great source of support. Dr. Preethi Pratap really worked hard to help me incorporate my food interests by introducing me to food and health issues from the environmental end. Her unique teaching style had an even greater impact on me and influenced me to emulate that in my training sessions.

What advice would you give to an incoming graduate student at UIC? Is there something you wish you had known when you started out?

Be sure to create your own community and build connections with other students outside of class—we’re all struggling in different ways and it’s great to gain perspective on what is different and what is similar. Ask lots of questions of your professors and do your “homework” about multiple academic focus areas so you can learn how things connect to what you want to do. Lastly, look at everything as a learning opportunity, because although it may not be directly applicable now, it may be in the future. You have to take advantage of every opportunity that you can, because you never know if you will get this chance again—nothing is a waste of time, all learning can be valuable in some way.

What was the most challenging aspect of graduate school for you, and how did you overcome that challenge?

Graduate school was challenging in several ways. Some classes had difficult content, navigating where opportunities existed in various departments, trying to understand academia and what was most important, building self confidence to stand on my own two feet. What helped me overcome most challenges has remained the same my whole life, Persistence. I’m so very appreciative and aware that what helped me persist was the support of all my fellow colleagues/students who shared in the graduate school struggles. Things are going to be hard and it’s important to ask questions, to push back when you have difficulties and challenge yourself and others. The other major piece, I’ve always had some challenges with is, balance. You know, you have to have a life too. Find balance between work and hobbies. Use those hobbies to help you relieve those pressures you feel so you can overcome the challenges you face, both are equally important.

Concluding thoughts?

The one thing I was really glad I did was try everything the department had to offer, explored outside the department and continued to be active in outside causes that enhanced my graduate experience. Sometimes those were what some might say are not the most glamorous experiences, like when I was sampling sediment in The Great Lakes, but glamour aside they provided me with experiences I still take lessons from to this very day. I also think it’s important to note that I made the sacrifice to take on more student loans versus working outside of school so I could have these opportunities. With that aside, if I had just solely focused on my coursework, I would not have had the exposure, which prepared me to be resilient with my work. I strongly encourage those to push past your comfort zone or what is traditional and take on all the opportunities available and try to create a few of your own.

 

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