University of Wisconsin–Madison

2018 Forward Under 40 Award Recipient Rupa Valdez

UW Majors: Industrial And Systems Engineering, French; Certificates In Cultural Anthropology, Business, and European Studies
Age: 37 | Charlottesville, Virginia
Assistant Professor, Department Of Public Health Sciences, University Of Virginia; Founder, Blue Trunk Foundation

Former European Studies certificate awardee Rupa Valdez is a researcher and educator who designs technologies and programs that make it easier for people to take care of their health. In most of her work, she engages with underserved populations, including people who live in rural areas, who identify as minorities, or who live with disabilities.

Valdez researches ergonomics, culture, community, and more — and shares her findings with social scientists, engineers, and medical professionals around the globe. Her work includes projects such as understanding how people around the country use Facebook to communicate about health, designing a mobile app with high school students in Appalachia to enhance youth engagement in health-related community events, and collaborating with a women’s group in South Africa to reduce youth violence.

Her sought-after research, teaching, and mentorship are influenced by a number of fields — a diversity of perspective that Valdez attributes to her UW experience.

“I often describe my research to students as eclectic because it doesn’t fit neatly into any one discipline,” Valdez says. “[At Wisconsin], I was able to explore disciplines as wide ranging as engineering, nursing, anthropology, French, business, and education. When I think about my work now, I see the interweaving of these different lines of thought.”

Valdez can also boast another UW–Madison connection: Neha Lugo ’06, an attorney with the U.S. State Department and a 2017 Forward under 40 award winner, is her sister.

In addition to her role at the University of Virginia, Valdez’s personal experiences have inspired a nonprofit venture: the Blue Trunk Foundation. A frequent traveler with her own health challenges, Valdez uses a wheelchair to cover long distances. Her organization shares information about accessibility to make it easier for people to travel regardless of their disabilities or health conditions. This allows travelers who need accommodations to plan ahead and better navigate their journeys and destinations.

Blue Trunk’s first resources are set to launch in Charlottesville and Madison, where Valdez still collaborates with UW students and faculty. “Without the breadth of experiences Wisconsin offered,” she says, “I can’t imagine having the multiple perspectives I now draw on daily.”

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