Written by: Kelli Selwyn
Ask anyone in the field and they will tell you that a Masters of Public Health is a practice degree, but does that mean practice and research never merge? Of course not! Public health is very interdisciplinary and some of the most exciting public health opportunities may be in other colleges or out in the community. I have learned this first-hand during my time as a Research Assistant with Community Chats, which is housed under the College of Agricultural Education and Communications. Community Chats is a project that brings researchers and the public together to learn about various topics in public health through informal science education and community dialogue.
I had the pleasure of assisting in the production and execution of “The Future of Allergies, Asthma and Air Quality in North Central Florida in the Face of Climate Change” event. During the program, the community (myself included) had the opportunity to learn a more about the ways in which climate change has affected the air quality (and allergies) in our region in the past 25 years and how it will continue to affect it during the next 25 years.
Climate change isn’t all about melting ice caps in Antarctica and rising sea levels. Some effects of climate change hit a little closer to home. For example, the pollination season of North Central Florida has actually expanded due to the rise in average temperatures, allowing allergy-inducing species like ragweed to flourish. This is likely to continue into the future, along with an influx of invading wasp populations. Sound like an issue? Well, do not fret. The event also covered ideas on actions we can take as a community to combat the effects of climate change and make a positive impact in our local environment. For starters, we can get into contact with our representatives so that policy-level action can be taken to protect the environment and reduce air pollution. For more information on the effects of climate change in our local area and ways in which you can help prevent it, check out the full event at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOGEMgqI-DY.
As future public health professionals, it is important to keep in mind that although we (hopefully) have learned a great deal during our time in the MPH program, we are not going to have all the answers nor can we plan for everything when implementing public health programs and events. It is often best to listen to the community, as was done in the case of community chats. Social media was used prior to the planning of the event to decide upon its topic. The researchers asked what public health-related issue was of most concern to the public in the face of climate change and the community responded by a fairly wide margin in favor of an event focusing on air quality and allergies.
What I learned from working with Community Chats is that public health is a profession which often requires wearing many hats. From learning how to build an evaluation from the ground up to being able to put theory into practice, it’s been quite the learning experience. Taking on an internship is a great way to expand your public health knowledge. To find a project you might be interested in, don’t be shy about talking to faculty and looking into projects in other colleges, as well.
To attend the next event, like Community Chats on Facebook at www.facebook.com/communitychats for updates on the time and location. To join the discussion and be an active part of the public health community in North Central Florida, be sure to use #CCNCFL.
Kelli Selwyn is currently a second-year Master of Public Health Candidate at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions and a Research Assistant at Community Chats.