Faculty Spotlight: Virginia Chaidez

Virginia Chaidez
Virginia Chaidez

About Virginia Chaidez:
I was born in raised in San Diego, California, am a second generation Mexican-American and was the first in my family to go to college. I received my Ph.D. in Nutrition from the University of California, Davis in 2009. After that I spent two and a half years as a postdoctoral scholar in the Public Health Sciences Department and the Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute at UCD working on a large population-based study on autism and completed an autism research training program. From there, I spent two and half years working with the UC Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education State Office overseeing evaluation of nutrition education programming aimed at obesity prevention. All of these provided different experiences and lenses to see the complexity of addressing public health problems.

What is your position at UNL?
I am an assistant professor of Behavior-Based Epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences. I am also a faculty member representing the Minority Health Disparities Initiative (MHDI) at UNL. Currently UNL’s MHDI has three primary agendas: to build and support a community of researchers at UNL with an active interest in minority health and health disparities; increase the participation of minority scholars at all levels (faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates) in health-related research; and encourage emerging health scholars to pursue a research career in minority health disparities. This ties in nicely with my research and teaching appointment in the department, particularly because our undergraduate nutrition program will be offering a new option that focuses on community health and wellness. Currently I’m traveling quite a bit to build relationships with Nebraska’s rural communities with the hope that this effort will one day provide service learning opportunities for our undergraduates, and build bridges for sustainable community impact research for our graduate students, future collaborators and my own work.

What drew you to UNL?
There were many things that drew me to UNL; I almost don’t know where to begin. For starters I was impressed that there was a vision and strategic hire planning process that had been in place for years, and that it was in tune with the quickly changing needs of Nebraska. I could see that UNL was bringing in people from diverse backgrounds and investing in their faculty in a way that I had not seen or heard in other circles, by way of friends and colleagues who took the academia career path. I saw UNL as an opportunity to truly be a university for the people, and I was looking for an opportunity that would allow me to be a conduit for improving the lives of underserved communities in the most synergistic ways possible. I also fell in love with the warmth and modesty of Nebraska folks. It really is a great place to live and work.

What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?
I’ve been on board a relatively short time, but I would have to say at this point, it’s the opportunity to think outside the box. I’ve quickly learned that the public health problems I initially set out to address are complex, intertwined problems that require working across disciplines and across sectors. We simply can’t afford to work in academic silos anymore. I think our students also need to hear that message, so I’m excited to see where my graduate students will go with that kind of encouragement.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising a daughter (now in college) who turned out to be a well-rounded, confident and kind human being. Mind you being a single parent and putting myself through graduate school made this achievement all the more gratifying. I think that experience provided valuable lessons to the both of us; perseverance being key among them. She is simply the biggest joy and achievement of my life.

What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I love salsa music and dancing. I consider myself an advanced beginner. So if anybody out there knows where I can find great salsa lessons or dance venues, please shoot me an email!

What is your life like outside of work?
I’ve learned to enjoy a very simple life as a single parent. For me, having dinner together and sharing a home-cooked meal was the expectation in my household. We often had my daughter’s friends join us (apparently my cooking was pretty good!) and beyond sharing a healthy meal, I could see that the conversation and time spent around the table was nourishing to the soul.