Dr. Yoshira Ornelas Van Horne (“Yoshi”) is a first-generation college graduate who received a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Arizona. Yoshi was formerly a Postdoctoral Research Associate here in the Division of Environmental Health (EH) at USC, where her research focused on addressing unequal exposures to harmful contaminants that affect structurally marginalized communities.
This fall, Yoshi joined the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health as a tenure track Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.
What was your experience being a postdoc for the EH Division?
I absolutely enjoyed being a postdoc with Drs. Jill Johnston and Shohreh Farzan in the EH Division. They were both very welcoming and not only encouraged me to pursue my individual research interest but also provided a safe mentoring space, and opportunities to be involved with initiatives I felt strongly about and at the same time helped me get connected to the greater LA community.
Why do you think this work is important?
I had been told to seek out a postdoc that would be solely focused on academic research productivity, but to me it was equally important to find mentors and a research team that was working alongside communities. The work is largely community-driven which is important as this is a pathway to advancing local environmental politics and finding sustainable culturally appropriate interventions.
Has your perception of LA changed since living here and working here?
Hahahaha … well let's just say LA was never in my plans, I used to see LA and California in general as the leaders in environmental harmony, a place where contamination from industries was a thing of the past but coming here, but I saw that is not the case. Industrial contamination persists and while we have seen great wins largely as a result of local grassroots community organizations like the shutdown of Exide and the 2500 ft. health buffer around oil wells we have such a long way to go to ensure neighborhoods that lack political power also see justice.
Has your time here influenced your future research interests/agenda?
I am interested in continuing to understand the effects of cumulative exposures among environmental justice communities, looking at both individual and structural factors and developing culturally appropriate interventions.
What will you miss the most?
I will miss my fellow EJ [environmental justice] lab members the most, in our time together we def grew to be a tight-knit group. I learned so much from them and I am always inspired by individuals who center team science and equity research.
What has been your biggest takeaway from your time at USC?
Keep track of your own budget and account information lol.
What are your next steps/big goals?
I would love to have more cross-collaboration with other community engagement centers across various institutions. There is no reason to start from scratch and being able to lean on each other is bound to increase our impact. I am also excited to be part of the leadership team for Agents of Change in EJ and continue to uplift the work of early career scientists.
Any advice for future postdocs?
Ask lots of questions, both from your intended PI, current and former lab members. If there is not a supportive postdoc group, start one. Here at USC I along with other amazing postdocs started an unofficial postdoc group appropriately nicknamed the system disruptors.
For more, please check out Yoshi’s podcast with Agents of Change in Environmental Justice, an organization that encourages folks to be leaders in environmental justice, especially those who have been historically excluded from sustainability spaces. Listen here to learn about her journey in environmental health!