The University of Iowa

Robyn Espinosa

Robyn Espinosa


Robyn Espinosa, a doctoral student in occupational and environmental health, is researching whether or not childhood adversity and community adversity have an effect on the success of juvenile justice rehabilitation programming.

Espinoza is working with the Injury Prevention Research Center, the Iowa Department of Corrections, and the Iowa Department of Human Rights, to devise ideas for tailoring court programs for youth based on their prior trauma history. Her work includes large scale data analysis as well as key informant interviews.

She was selected for the Vice President for Research’s Dare to Discover campaign this fall.

Q: Why did you pursue graduate school / become a researcher?

A: I’ve been involved in research since my undergraduate years, so it was an easy choice to continue on with helping finding solutions for people. I’ve been involved in several different projects over the years and the research I am doing now is my favorite. Following my passion and calling makes the research so much more rewarding.

Q: Describe your research in non-expert language?

A: I am working to better understand how children’s past traumas and experiences shape their risks of being prone to deviant and antisocial behaviors leading some to be repeat juvenile offenders.

Q: What impact do you hope to have on your field/world?

A: I hope my research sheds light on the need to understand the full picture of why children are misbehaving and committing crimes. Hopefully this leads to improving the justice system and the programs offered to the detainees. The fact that we all have different backgrounds of experiences and traumas should be taken into consideration when we are prescribing programs for the youth.

Q: What programs or resources (on or off campus) have influenced or supported your academic goals?

A: The Injury Prevention Resource Center and the Heartland Center have been integral to my success. They both have been supportive of my success in the classroom and in my research. They both have facilitated connections that have been so important to helping me shape my research and make important decisions. It is also so awesome to find centers focused on the realm of my research that actually support the whole student through academic development and professional development.

Q: Do you have any role models, mentors, or inspirational people who have encouraged you to pursue your work?

A: My parents are my biggest role models and supporters. As retired police, they have taught me what justice is and that I should speak up for those who cannot. It really instilled a passion in me at a young age to work hard and help when and where I can. My biggest inspiration is my daughter, Layla, who has been my biggest cheerleader and my most supportive critic. Her aspirations as an 11-year-old makes me want to work even harder for her generation.

Q: How has your graduate experience shaped your career goals?

A: I have been fortunate enough to have had several experiences while at the University of Iowa that have exposed me to different career avenues: international collaboration, governmental work, and academia (both lecture and research). The graduate experience had widened my eyes to opportunity, but narrowed my vision to the good fits (at the moment academia).

Q: If you could go back to a time at the beginning of your graduate career, what advice would you give yourself?

A: You cannot pour from an empty cup. Prioritize the practice of self-care!

Occupational and Environmental Health