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Assessing Environmental Health Risks and COVID-19 Cases at the EPA

Headshots of student

August 27, 2020

Sydney Stern is a second-year MPH student at the Dornsife School of Public Health. Her concentration of study is epidemiology.

When it came time to choose an Applied Practical Experience (APE) over the summer, Stern decided to pursue a position at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to further explore her interests in environmental health. “I was really interested in learning more about the relationship between the environment and public health,” said Stern. “I'm fascinated by the connections between environmental science, biology, social justice, and policy.”

Due to the pandemic, she—like her fellow students—met the challenge of learning and gaining career experience from home. Though she looked forward to being in the EPA building in the city and getting to interact with staff in-person, she still had an impactful depth internship experience.

Stern worked with the EPA to develop health risk assessments on infectious diseases and environmental factors. She also learned to use tools like EnviroAtlas and EJScreen. With these tools, she helped to map the incidences of environmental exposures like air pollution and reported COVID-19 cases throughout Philadelphia County to track correlations and identify communities with a higher risk of contracting the disease. 

The data can help inform local government officials and public health leaders so they can better serve communities that may be more susceptible to COVID-19 and allocate relief funding.

A highlight from Stern’s time at the EPA was when she presented insights from the data to the Office of Communities, Tribes & Environmental Assessment. “It was really exciting to hear positive feedback and receive reassurance that the work was going to be useful in future EPA projects.”

Now that Stern's APE is complete, she has had time to reflect on some key takeaways from the experience. “My experience with the EPA allowed me to have a positive impact on the COVID-19 pandemic in real-time and increase my knowledge about the role of a government agency like the EPA in a pandemic,” she said. 

Stern is expected to graduate in March 2021. She hopes to work for or with the EPA again in the future.

Learn more about Applied Practical Experiences at Dornsife