Gabino Abarca used to spend his summers hauling 40-pound bags of apples up and down ladders in the tiny central Washington town of Mattawa.
Now, the University of Washington senior is conducting research on heat-related illnesses among agricultural workers in the Yakima Valley.
“I was now able to do fieldwork with a pen and paper instead of a ladder and bag,” Abarca told a crowd of dignitaries gathered Wednesday for the official groundbreaking of the university’s new 290,000-square-foot Population Health Building, a facility that will house the Population Health Initiative launched by the UW in 2016.
“It means a lot to me to be working on issues that affect the community I grew up in and that my parents are still a part of,” Abarca said. “It gives me a lot of pride and pleasure to be doing work that may benefit this community.”
The Population Health Initiative is a 25-year effort to create a world where all people can live healthier and more fulfilling lives. The UW defines population health as revolving around three major pillars — human health, environmental resilience, and social and economic equity.