BU School of Public Health News & Events by Michelle Samuels
How do you describe the bulk of your public health work?
When I give the elevator pitch of what I do, I say I work in a lot of different areas, on many exposures and health outcomes, and the common thread that ties them all together is engagement of the people affected. I ask, “Who will be most affected by the results, are they engaged, and will this be meaningful to them?” It doesn’t mean I value community engaged research over all research, it’s just that for me, asking these questions helps me narrow the world of opportunities.
Why is community involvement important to you?
It comes down to something that this school has gotten a lot of attention for highlighting: health inequalities and health disparities. I think there are also huge disparities in access to scientific resources. Some of the hardest questions come from people who are on the front lines of hazardous working and living conditions, and they can’t just decide to do a study on the consequences of their exposures. To reduce health inequalities, it’s really important that we have a direct line of communication between our science, and scientists, and the communities who could benefit.
Ideally, understanding the consequences of our exposures or actions would lead to prevention and policies that protect workers and communities.
It also isn’t just about scientists providing scientific resources and expertise, it’s also about listening. It’s important to me, as a scientist, to listen to the experience and observations of non-scientists, people who aren’t public health professionals. I learn a lot.
You do a lot of work in Chelsea, where you live. Can you give some examples of that work?
I moved to Chelsea so I could be close to my mom, who moved there in 1980 (I lived with my dad on the Cape). I was also intentional about being part of a community where I’m doing work.
In 2006, there was a proposal for a diesel fuel power plant in Chelsea, across the street from the elementary school complex where every single elementary school child in the city goes. Chelsea residents successfully opposed the proposal, but continued to focus on monitoring and improving air quality. The power plant victory created momentum for a lot of great projects. I worked with a community organization to train youth and other community members to use particulate matter air monitors around the city to identify some air pollution hot spots. Other SPH faculty and students assisted with this, and David Ozonoff helped us get funding via the BU Superfund Research Program.
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