A new course at the Yale School of Public Health will teach students to combat climate change through community-based projects.
The class, titled “Practicum in Climate Change, Sustainability and Public Health,” is taught by epidemiology professor Robert Dubrow. The course explores issues at the intersection of these three fields, with students working with local and University organizations to conduct research and offer practical solutions.
“I hope [the students] deepen their appreciation for the linkage between climate change and sustainability and public health through this course,” Dubrow said. “Sustainability is really critical for public health.”
The course is organized into four teams of three to four students, with each team implementing a project by the end of the semester. Dubrow, who chose the projects, said he coordinated them with various Yale organizations, including the Office of Sustainability and the environmental health sciences program.
Of this semester’s projects, two relate to Yale: the development of mass-producible healthy pizza for Yale events and the reduction of automobile use by Yale employees. The other two projects, which are applicable to the broader community, target the carbon footprint impact of unnecessary medical testing at Yale New Haven Hospital and the improvement of beach closure policy on the Long Island Sound.
“Although each of the projects are small and local, there’s potential, I think, for each of them to have a wider impact if the findings of the project are interesting and could be adopted in other localities,” Dubrow said.
The class consists of six undergraduates and nine students in the School of Public Health. All were accepted during the fall semester and, afterwards, participated in a two-day workshop in November to begin working on their projects and to get to know their future group members.
Dubrow stressed that his course is especially relevant given the current political climate. He said he hopes this course will teach his students how to keep fighting for a multilevel approach to addressing global warming.
“It doesn’t matter if greenhouse gases are emitted in New Haven or in Australia or in Russia; it has the same effect on the world,” Dubrow said. “It’s a global problem, and it has to be a global solution.”
Each of the projects is led by preceptors from the sponsoring organizations. Alex Cinotti, assistant director of the East Shore District Health Department, said he hopes that students working with him on the beach closure project will be encouraged to ask questions about the data they are given, rather than simply accept claims made by authorities. According to Cinotti, the East Shore District Health Department is eager to combine its environmental monitoring capabilities with Yale’s expertise in research and data analysis.
Anesthesiology professor Jodi Sherman, a preceptor for the YNHH project, noted that the health care sector’s environmental footprint not only needs analysis and reduction but is also a key concern in the education and work of health professionals. By highlighting the waste and inefficiency in current medical testing, Sherman said she hopes that students will come away from the project with an appreciation for measuring progress and examining problems in greater depth.
Brandon Marks ’18, a member of the beach closure policy team, said that he decided to take the course because of its relevance to present-day affairs, as well as his academic interests. Marks added that as a Global Affairs major, he is interested in economic development and poverty alleviation — issues that play a significant role in discussions about increasing standards of living in a sustainable way.
“The intersection of these three topics — climate change, sustainability and public health — hasn’t been explored ad nauseam yet, so that’s one reason this is really exciting to me,” Marks said. “It’s not only an intersection of three fields that have important implications for how the world does business and how the government makes decisions, but it’s also a hands-on opportunity to get involved in something new.”
Dubrow said he hopes that this course will be offered yearly. More classes at the School of Public Health should focus on implementing projects in the community, he added.
“Practicum in Climate Change, Sustainability and Public Health” meets once a week for an hour and 50 minutes.
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