Planetary Health Center of Expertise selects summer fellows

July 9, 2018

Ten UC undergraduate and graduate students will gain hands-on experience this summer working in conservation, natural resources, agriculture, policy and health.

They have been selected for the Planetary Health Center of Expertise (PHCOE) Summer Field Experience Program to work in collaboration with the PHCOE’s local and international partners.  

“These talented summer students are mentored by PHCOE leadership and some receive academic credit or stipends for participation in this program,” explained PHCOE co-director Woutrina Smith. She added that the COE created the program to help students from all University of California campuses gain the real-world skills they need to help them secure positions after graduation. 

“You need a job to get experience, while you need experience to get a job,” said Smith. She hopes that these opportunities will serve as a pipeline into the job market by providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in their chosen field.

The summer opportunities this year are in conjunction with the PHCOE and the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Cooperative Extension, the California Department of Conservation (DOC) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

Meet the fellows

Holly Beitch

Holly BeitchMajor: Public Health
Department: Public Health
Level of study: Masters
Campus: UC Davis
Host site and mentor: California Department of Public Health, Office of Health Equity; Meredith Milet

At the California Department of Public Health, Holly will be assisting to calculate updated climate change and health vulnerability indicators. Her interest in planetary health began when she took a series of classes in her Master's curriculum highlighting how the health of the environment is inextricably linked to the health of humans and animals. Holly is interested in the effects of the developed environment on human health. Through this fellowship, she hopes to gain a deeper perspective on the relationship between climate change and health equity. She is looking forward to being exposed to this public health concern because climatic changes and health will inevitably be a key field of study in training up and coming public health professionals.

Serena Bhagirath

Serena BhagirathMajor: Public Health
Department: Public Health
Level of study: Masters
Campus: UC Davis
Host site and mentor: UC Cooperative Extension, Yuba City; Whitney Brim-DeForest

After completing coursework for a Master’s in Public Health, Serena realized how aspects of science, public policy and social services can be integrated to solve local and global health problems. As a Yuba City native, Serena will return to her hometown this summer to work with the UC Cooperative Extension. She will design and implement a survey to gather data and provide the extension service with an assessment of the resource utilization and different farming practices used by rice growers in Northern California. From this fellowship, she seeks to gain practical experience, but more importantly, she hopes to participate in fulfilling work within her community.

Kyle Cheung

Kyle CheungMajor: Biological Systems Engineering
Department: Biological and Agricultural Engineering
Level of study: Bachelor’s
Campus: UC Davis

Host site and mentor: Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center; Dr. Jeremy James

This summer, Kyle will assist in the design and implementation of a wireless mesh sensor network and automation of field equipment at the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center (SFREC) in Browns Valley, CA. Kyle’s research will focus on overcoming the challenges posed by the hilly terrain at the center that decreases the functionality of field equipment. He will also research automation techniques that reduce maintenance for field equipment placed in difficult to access locations. He hopes to use this practical summer experience to guide his approach and focus for advanced training in graduate studies in agricultural automation.

Marisa Donnelly

Marissa DonnellyMajor: Epidemiology
Department: Epidemiology Graduate Group
Level of study: PhD
Campus: UC Davis
Host site and mentor: California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Climate Change and Equity Program; Jason Vargo

Applying her background in statistical and epidemiological modeling, Marisa will investigate the human morbidity and mortality burden attributed to ambient temperature and extreme heat and cold events in California. Marisa will project future scenarios of excess temperature-related morbidity and mortality in California populations using climate change scenarios and general circulation models. While working at the CDPH, Marisa hopes to gain a better understanding of the complex relationships between health vulnerabilities and climate change, and strengthen her skills in modeling epidemiological outcomes with climate change projections.

Anna Grotjahn

Anna GrotjahnMajor: Wildlife and Conservation Biology
Department: Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology
Level of study: Bachelor’s
Campus: UC Davis
Host site: Kathi Baxter, Elkus Ranch

This summer, Anna will be stationed at Elkus Ranch where she will assist with their science summer camp program. Anna is interested in conservation science and ecology and seeks to gain practical experience and insights in ‘field’ teaching and curriculum development.

Hannah Lepsch

Hannah LepschMajor: International Agricultural Development
Department: Soils and Biogeochemistry Graduate Group
Level of study: Masters
Campus: UC Davis
Host site and mentor: UCANR: Yuba City; Whitney Brim-Deforest

Hannah will conduct a rice farm survey and support farmer outreach and education events at the Yuba City UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) division. Hannah is particularly interested in farmer outreach as it relates to soil health and is excited to communicate the value of healthy soil for environmental, biological, human and agroecosystem health. She hopes to gain an understanding of farmers’ perspectives, partner with them to solve practical challenges and communicate strategies to better steward our soils and environment.

Eryn McKinney

Eryn McKinneyMajor: Entomology and Nematology
Department: Entomology and Nematology
Level of study: Bachelors
Campus: UC Davis
Host site and mentor: Kern County Entomology Farm; David Haviland

Eryn will collect data from pesticide research trials that use pesticides to combat common agricultural pests, including spider mites, grapevine mealy bugs and sugarcane aphids. Eryn enjoys working in this area because she benefits from laboratory and field experiences and also experiences first-hand how integrated pest management can benefit the producer and the environment. Eryn is interested in environmentally friendly pesticide practices and their impacts on fauna and hopes to enter the apiarian industry.

Christina Murillo

Christina MurilloMajor: Community Development and Geography
Department: Human Ecology
Level of study: Masters
Campus: UC Davis
Host site and mentor: California Department of Conservation; Dr. Jeff Onstead

Cristina’s research focuses on conservation and community engagement in Central America. She has experience working with the US government, international conservation NGOs, and National Parks in the US and Costa Rica. Through this fellowship, she hopes to focus on examining land conservation and easement programs in California. Cristina aims to research and analyze Department of Conservation programs focusing on community engagement, empowerment and environmental justice.

Erica Orcutt

Erica OrcuttMajor: Geography
Department: Geography Graduate Group
Level of study: PhD
Campus: UC Davis
Host site and mentor: California Department of Conservation; Dr. Jeff Onstead

Erica will work on the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program, assisting with land use planning and mapping. Food security remains a key component of planetary health, and Erica hopes to support both agricultural production and sustainable community growth through this work. As a native Californian, Erica has made it her mission to contribute to resource conservation in the state. Her PhD research includes habitat mapping and analysis for the Mohave Ground Squirrel, a California listed species.

Landon Smith

Landon SmithMajor: International Political Economics
Department: International Political Economics
Level of study: Bachelors
Campus: University of Puget Sound
Host site and mentor: Planetary Health Center of Expertise, One Health Institute; Woutrina Smith

Landon’s summer fellowship will focus on the recent wildfires in Sonoma County and the effects they had on wineries. He will be researching current and potentially future farming practices of the wineries and how they implement worker safety to protect them from future extreme weather. Landon hopes that this research will help raise awareness on the dangers of outdoor laborers during extreme weather events and identify what interventions or practices can be implemented to increase worker safety.