Rebecca Gernes, MSW/MPH ’14, Addresses Environmental Public Health at the Environmental Protection Agency

Alumni; Public Health; Social Work

Rebecca Gernes has been fascinated by the ways that the natural and built environment affect people’s health and well-being. Her practicum at St. Louis’ Sustainability Office allowed her to contribute to the city’s sustainability plan through an environmental analysis.

“Not only was I collecting data from different departments—transit, health, and the planning department—I was also mapping a bunch of different sustainability indicators for the city,” she said. Rebecca’s work helped develop a tracking system that allows St. Louis to measure its sustainability progress relative to other cities.

As a dual-degree student, Rebecca also pursued a second practicum based in a south Chicago neighborhood. She conducted several environmental assessments for the neighborhood to anticipate upcoming changes and solicit community input. She also led community outreach to encourage access to local food and farmers markets.

“I love this work because it is really true to where I’ve come from,” Rebecca said. “My dad was a landscape architect and my mother was a physician, up so I’ve always had this connection between the environment and the health of people around me.

“I’m driven by questions like: How can we make our environments healthier? How can we make them more accessible to everybody who can benefit from them?” she said. “Whether it’s planting trees, putting in bike lanes, or building a farmer’s market or a grocery store, I think, ‘Who are the people that are going to benefit from them and what can we do to make those accessible to everybody?’”

Rebecca now works at the National Center for Environmental Assessment, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research center, to address high-priority issues in environmental public health.