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Maximizing the Impact of Urban Tree Planting in Philadelphia

Samuel headshot

October 15, 2020

From June to September 2020, Samuel Czerski, a second-year epidemiology master’s student at the Dornsife School of Public Health, completed an Applied Practical Experience (APE) by interning at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service.

Specifically, Czerski worked with the department on their urban tree planting initiative in Philadelphia. This position intrigued Czerski because it was an opportunity to learn about environmental health beyond the classroom while still applying their main area of study, epidemiology.

“I was interested in pursuing an APE that would provide me with new, hands-on subject knowledge, while still utilizing epidemiological research methods,” said Czerski.

In the role, Czerski was responsible for collecting and analyzing data and highlighting key findings they gathered on 3,500 existing tree species in the city of Philadelphia. The goal was to help advocates of tree planting programs throughout the city identify which trees thrive in which neighborhoods.

“This data will help them identify tree species that have higher survivorship rates in certain areas for future plantings and to maximize efforts,” they said.

The data supports the city in its efforts to increase tree canopy coverage by 30 percent in 2025. According to research published in the Lancet Planet Health that Dornsife contributed to, more than 400 premature deaths overall, including 244 premature deaths in areas of lower socioeconomic status, could be prevented annually in Philadelphia if the city were able to meet its goal of increasing tree canopy.

A highlight of Czerski’s internship was working with dedicated public health practitioners. “Working with researchers in the field that are committed to helping our environment and residents was very fulfilling,” they said.

In the future, Czerski hopes to pursue a career in bioinformatics. They want to utilize population health research methods for biological data to help further build an understanding of the role of the genome and its interaction with the microbiome and the environment in complex disease and disease etiology.