In front of an audience of public health professionals, students and faculty members in Winslow Auditorium this Tuesday, Sara Gilbert ’97, creator of the talk show “The Talk,” congratulated the 12 contestants of the School of Public Health’s first annual video challenge awards show “The Winnies” via prerecorded video.

But, of course, there could be only one first-place winner. Saskia Comess SPH ’19 won a Winnie award along with a cash prize of $2,500 for her 90-second video on air pollution titled “What About The Air We Breathe?” Comess said that she plans to use the cash prize to help pay for her education.

This event, a showcase of student-created videos submitted as part of the Roger Barnett Public Health Video Challenge, is one of many featured during the first annual Yale-American Public Health Association National Public Health Week. Other winners included Akshatha Kiran SPH ’20, Sacha Hauc SPH ’20, Kelsie Cassell SPH ’24 and Victoria Harries GRD ’24.

According to Comess, she entered the contest because she wanted to highlight the effect that pollution has on human health.

“It’s one of the most pressing public health issues of the 21st century, and I think it’s something that people all around the world are being exposed to,” she said. “With smoking rates declining, more people are actually dying from air pollution — that statistic stood out to me so much that I felt it was something worth making a video about.”

“What About The Air We Breathe?” stars Comess in a white lab coat as she uses a blender to explain exactly which invisible contaminants can lurk in the air around people. In addition to props, Comess also utilized her background in public health to break down important biological topics into bite-sized chunks for a layviewer to understand. Her inspiration, she said, came from “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

“I liked the idea of taking a science topic that’s dense or not that interesting to people and transforming it into something visual, fun and engaging,” she said.

Other contestants, such as Nkandu Yumbe SPH ’20, submitted their videos to shed light on research they were already doing outside of the classroom. Yumbe said she chose to enter her video about intimate partner violence because media formats other than peer-reviewed journals are more accessible to the everyday people affected by their research. While she did not win the grand prize, she said that making the video helped her prepare for her summer research position in Barbados on the same topic.

“I think there’s a very big gap between what we know and what actually gets done,” she said. “Video and media need to go beyond the people in academia who have access to peer-reviewed journals. I thought that making a video or using a nontraditional means of disseminating information is important.”

According to chair of the Yale-APHA Casey Luc SPH ’20, the Winnies were created to celebrate the research and talents of students throughout the School of Public Health. The awards show was one of many events held by Yale-APHA this week, including a student research symposium on Wednesday and a training event for recognizing the signs of an opioid overdose on Friday.

“These are all Yale students, and we’re showcasing and celebrating the work of the Yale School of Public Health cohort,” he said.

The American Public Health Association, which hosts National Public Health Week every year, was founded in 1872 by surgeon Stephen Smith.

Matt Kristoffersenmatthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu