Professor Spotlight: Sebastian Tello-Trillo

Professor Sebastian Tello-Trillo didn’t always want to be an economist. But, he did always want to find a way to address social problems.

“I originally came to the U.S. to study film,” said Tello-Trillo, an assistant professor of public policy and economics at Batten. “But I was also interested in math and economics. Because of my family background, I was interested in economics, but I was interested purely more in math.”

Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Tello-Trillo says he was always interested in social issues, particularly health. “I thought film—particularly documentary film would be the best medium to spotlight these issues.”

As he was starting to consider a career as a professor, Tello-Trillo worked as a research assistant at Yale.

“Basically, I graduated from college with a double major in mathematics and economics and those being the skills I had, I pursued a job in that field,” said Tello-Trillo.

During this time, he was exposed to the life of a professor and he discovered he liked it.

“I really liked the professor, Mushfiq Mobarak, and his work under innovation for poverty action,” said Tello-Trillo. “We were implementing policies to test if they were going to work or not. This is where I recognized the value of doing policy analysis and how economics affects and informs that process.”

Tello-Trillo, who joined Batten in 2016 following the completion of his Ph.D. in economics from Vanderbilt University, considers himself a health economist.

“Health is something that I have always been interested in—ever since I was a child,” says Tello-Trillo. “I remember as a little kid living in Lima, Peru watching the news and hearing how an old man had died while waiting in line at the hospital. This completely dumbfounded me.”

As an economist focusing on health policy, there are so many different factors at work, and they determine so many different outcomes.

For Tello-Trillo, the health interest was augmented while studying economics, “When you think about the market of health, you realize that it has a number of market failures—some of which are very messy.”

For Tello-Trillo, the messier it is the more interesting—and he enjoys that challenge. At the moment, he is focused on two main topics: what happens when people lose health insurance and the topic of mental health.

On health insurance, Tello-Trillo said “Most of what we know of the relationship between health insurance and financial, education, and health outcomes come from experiments when people gain insurance. We [economists] are just starting to understand what happens when people lose insurance from the policy side.”

Mental health is a relatively understudied topic in the field of health economics for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it’s hard to measure something such as depression and its triggers and worse, suicide. The Economist published a cover story back in late November that examined why the global suicide rate was falling. Currently, Tello-Trillo is looking at mental health policy specifically in the U.S. but he is interested in expanding it to other Latin American countries. As seen in The Economist, a number of articles demonstrate the growing interest in mental health—and how it affects the global economy. 

“One area is data,” said Tello-Trillo. “What are these measurements and are they good measurements when it comes to mental health?  How can we learn from them so we can inform and shape policy?”

The other aspect of mental health is the role it plays in determining certain economic outcomes. And conversely, how policy affects mental health—whether it’s legalizing same-sex marriage, job loss, education,  etc. There are a variety of factors that can impact an individual’s overall physical and mental well-being—positively or negatively.

That’s just a start for this young professor, who savors making a direct impact with his work that aims to create greater awareness about issues, such as health.

“What I value about teaching in Batten is the relationship I get to form with students, and how that becomes useful during and after Batten,” said Tello-Trillo.

“I have had conversations with students after graduating about work that they are doing, and we workshop thought policy issues that they are handling at work. It feels I’m making a direct impact through the work of my students. I also appreciate the questions I get asked, I think it keeps me grounded on what’s relevant for policy and what’s not. The experiences that some of the students have had in the policy world really elevates the classroom.”

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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