Marizen Ramirez, College of Public Health

Photo by Tim Schoon.

There are statistics that motivate people to pursue injury research. For example, injury is the leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 1 and 44. For Marizen Ramirez, a more specific, micro-level statistic prompted her to devote her professional career to this area.

“Each of us likely has suffered an injury or knows someone who has,” says Ramirez, associate professor of occupational and environmental health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. “My most significant, tragic encounter was the violent death of a young woman and friend on my college campus. Injuries and violence are preventable, and preventing such incidents from occurring is what public health is about.”

Ramirez’s research focuses primarily on pediatric injuries and violence. For the past decade, she’s been involved in numerous school-based studies; since coming from California to Iowa four years ago, she’s also conducted research in workplace and home environments. Ramirez teaches two courses on injury epidemiology and occupational injuries, and serves on suicide prevention committees at the UI and Johnson County.

Ramirez spoke with fyi about her research projects, her upcoming move into the College of Public Health’s new home, and her stringed-instrument skills.

Tell us about the Injury Prevention Research Center.

The Injury Prevention Research Center is a federally funded center focused on research, teaching, and outreach in the area of injury and violence prevention and control. Historically, our center has worked with colleagues from engineering, medicine, psychology, and social work on a variety of safety topics: teen driving, rural fires, bicycle safety, domestic violence, and sports injuries. My recent work with colleagues from nursing, medicine, and sociology involves a study of stress among children traumatized by injuries and violence, and a study of social networks and how they influence perpetration of intimate partner violence among youth.

Our center also works with colleagues from Eastern Europe and China to provide training and work on collaborative, international projects.

You direct Iowa’s FACE program—what is that?

FACE stands for Fatal Assessment and Control Evaluation. The Iowa FACE program is one of nine such programs funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to conduct surveillance, investigations, and dissemination of prevention messages related to traumatic workplace deaths. Iowa currently experiences approximately 80 workplace deaths per year, of which about significant majority occur in agriculture. Many of these deaths are preventable. In collaboration with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the state medical examiner’s office, we investigate a selected number of deaths and provide recommendations. We disseminate these prevention strategies to targeted audiences through media, trade journals and other local organizations.

Talk to me about some of your research that deals with children and injury.

I recently received funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct a project on disaster preparedness in rural communities. For this study, scheduled to begin in the fall, we will identify rural families of children with disabilities across Iowa and provide them an intervention to improve their ability to handle disaster-related challenges such as evacuation and medical response for their children. The need for evidence-based effective disaster preparedness programs is critical—we have seen how places like Joplin, Mo., recently ravaged by tornadoes, have suffered tremendously.

A few of my favorite things…
Thai food

Lunch at Charlotte’s in North Liberty

Thanks to my book club, I just finished reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and loved his writing. A classic favorite for me is Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

’80s alternative music (The Cure, New Order)

The movie Amelie

My kids dominate the TV, so my favorite shows are my kids’ favorites: Clifford the Big Red Dog, American Idol

Los Angeles Lakers

Additionally, I am co-investigator for a research study of safe play areas on farms. We are currently studying the effectiveness of an intervention that teaches parents how to build safe play areas on farms for children younger than 6.

And, finally, I have ongoing studies of bullying victimization among Iowa schoolchildren. In one recent study, we found that about half of Iowa sixth, eighth, and eleventh graders reported being bullied at school in the past 30 days. Victims are at increased risk for adverse health outcomes, and we found that the probability of alcohol use and binge drinking is particularly high (37 percent to 59 percent) for high school victims of physical and cyber-bullying.

When are you moving into the college’s new academic building? I assume you’re excited.

In December, we move to our new building—a physical, central place to call home. Many of us, myself included, are scattered throughout campus. It will be nice to be able to walk down the hall or up a floor to visit with colleagues from our sister departments. We also will be able to collaborate more closely with other scientists from parts of campus.

What’s your favorite aspect of being a professor here?

I really enjoy teaching and interacting with the students. I would like to impart skills that students can utilize outside the campus walls. My most exciting course assignment involves analysis of school injury data that I collected as a doctoral student.

What would your colleagues be surprised to learn about you?

I minored in music, played the violin, and had a dream to sing for the San Francisco Opera. It remains a dream—the only singing I can do well might be background in a choir, or in the shower. I did play the violin for some weddings when I lived in California, but mostly without pay and for family friends.

I also was an avid snowboarder before my children came into the picture. Unfortunately, again, I’m not particularly talented on the slopes; I have always had trouble getting off the lifts. However, I do practice injury prevention and ALWAYS wore a helmet!

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