Breathe of fresh air

Rebecca Gernes came to the Brown School with an interest in studying the role geography, or place, played in public health equity. She had an idea for a capstone project already in place: working with the Metro East Community Air Project (MECAP) to use experience gained at the Brown School in computer mapping, called ArcGIS, to learn about air pollution and asthma and how it impacts residents in East St. Louis and its neighboring communities.

Rebecca Gernes

Rebecca Gernes is a dual degree candidate – master of social work and master of public health – from the Brown School.

But in the middle of finals week a year ago, Gernes learned of a program through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Challenge, and she shifted into overdrive to apply for it.

It worked. Gernes learned last summer she had been chosen as one of eight academic partners — and the only student — to work with the EPA for the 2013-14 school year.

“It has been incredible for me to see this project evolve,” said Gernes. “Learning from experts in different fields around this topic, from public health workers to EPA scientists, has been a fantastic experience. What’s most exciting is the opportunity I have to share my findings and contribute to local conversations around air quality and health.”

Gernes also won the Dean’s Award and Outstanding Culminating Experience award at the Brown School’s 2014 Research Without Walls research symposium and has served in two GIS graduate student consultancies, with the Missouri Department of Corrections and the Office of Sustainability for the Mayor’s Office in St. Louis.


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