Mariela Quesada CentenoPhD Student, Human Development & Family Studies

Field of Interest:

Mariela is interested in the community health workers framework, as a community-based empowerment program, aimed to implement a peer support model for Latino mothers as they develop a new relationship with their babies. This interest finds its roots int he fact that immigrant Latino women often encounter multiple messages about parenting emerging from their own socially accepted norms and behaviors and the expected way of “being a parent” according to the white community. This dichotomy causes women to avoid sharing their experiences as mothers raising children in a different environment. This research interest finds contemplative practices as a tool to improve mother and child bonding, increase self-compassion and acceptance, and find strategies to cope with the intrinsic pain and stress resulted from the immigration process.

Education and Relevant Experience

Mariela Quesada Centeno is the Director of the Wellness Program Centro Hispano of Dane County. She earned her DVM degree at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Costa Rica. After migrating to the United States, she completed her Masters of Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During that time, she worked as a researcher at the School of Veterinary Medicine and the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Her professional and personal interests have always gravitated in understanding the interaction between animal and human health and the role of race, gender, and the built environment play in the development of communities.

After five years in research and diagnostics, she decided to transition to the non-profit sector, as the Latino Outreach and Education Coordinator at the Gene and Linda Farley Center, working directly with minority farmers in Wisconsin and the Midwest. The main reason for this transition was the imperative need to work with the Latino community and to learn how to put research into practice. Mrs. Quesada Centeno completed a Food Policy internship with Michael Field Agricultural Institute and she is a National Fellow for the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP). Also, she participated at the Dane County Food Council for two years, and was a member of the Community Advisory Board in the partnership between UW-Madison and the Southside Neighborhood. She also has worked as a consultant for the Wisconsin Food Hub for almost two years, assisting directly with Latino farmers in the area and in 2016, she received the National Cooperative Fellowship from the Democracy at Work Institute.

She worked as a Director of Adult Programs at Centro Hispano for three years before transitioning to her current position. In this position together with her staff she implemented and evaluated programs aimed to increase educational opportunities in areas of health care and finances, provide low cost immigration services, and assist in the court systems for clients with Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) issues. Her interest in food systems and its interactions with the health care systems lead her to the development of the Wellness Initiative. The overarching vision of this initiative is to develop community based health and wellness educational opportunities fueled by the community, with the aim to proactively reduce the observed and documented health disparities in the Latino population. The initiative is divided into two core programs: Food Security and Food Justice & Development of a Community Health Workers Training Program.

Awards and Recognition

2014 Slow Food – Terra Madre United States Delegate

2016 Democracy at Work Institute Fellowship

2017 School of Human Ecology Advanced Opportunity Fellowship

Portrait of Mariela Quesada Centeno, a Latina woman, with black shoulder-length hair, glasses, and a tattoo on her right arm.

Degree Program

  • Human Development and Family Studies Graduate Program