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A cross-divisional department spanning

Research Areas

Community Sustainability, Resilience, and Preparedness


Sustainability scholarship involves creating, integrating and harnessing new knowledge to protect and improve social and natural systems and their interactions. Communities that depend on these systems can attain more sustainable futures through many paths. Creating and maintaining its economic and environmental health, promoting social equity, and fostering broad-based citizen participation in planning and implementation is crucial to the sustainability of any community.

Combining the approaches of epidemiologists and clinical trial health scientists, we seek to identify the causal links between the actions we take to improve our world and the impacts of those actions. In the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, our research focuses on building a credible evidence base about the environmental and social impacts of public and private programs.

Research Highlights

Quantifying Causal Mechanisms to Determine How Protected Areas Affect Poverty Through Changes in Ecosystem Services and Infrastructure

To develop effective environmental policies, we must understand the mechanisms through which the policies affect social and environmental outcomes. Unfortunately, empirical evidence about these mechanisms is limited, and little guidance for quantifying them exists. We develop an approach to quantifying the mechanisms through which legal protection of ecosystems affects areas of poverty. We focus on three mechanisms: changes in tourism and recreational services; changes in infrastructure in the form of road networks, health clinics, and schools; and changes in regulating and provisioning ecosystem services and foregone production activities that arise from land-use restrictions.

COPEWELL: A Conceptual Framework and System Dynamics Model for Predicting Community Functioning and Resilience After Disasters

Policy-makers and practitioners have a need to assess community resilience in disasters. Prior efforts conflated resilience with community functioning, combined resistance and recovery (the components of resilience), and relied on a static model for what is inherently a dynamic process. We sought to develop linked conceptual and computational models of community functioning and resilience after a disaster. We developed a system dynamics computational model that predicts community functioning after a disaster. The computational model outputted the time course of community functioning before, during, and after a disaster, which was used to calculate resistance, recovery, and resilience for all US counties.

Associated Faculty

Daniel Barnett, MD

Barnett's research interests include best practice models to enhance all-hazards public health emergency readiness and response. Specific areas of focus include disaster response surge capacity; design and evaluation of preparedness curricula for public health workers; mental health aspects of public health emergency response; public health readiness exercises; and organizational culture change issues facing health departments in building a ready public health workforce.


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Paul Ferraro, PhD

Ferraro's research focuses on behavioral economics and the design and evaluation of environmental programs in the private and public sector. 


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Shima Hamidi, PhD*

Dr. Hamidi has expertise in geospatial data, built environment, housing and transportation and their connections to public health.


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Chris Heaney, PhD*

Chris' research focuses on environmentally-mediated impacts on health and well-being, specifically community land use, waste disposal, and food production practices, and integrates the academic disciplines of environmental microbiology, molecular biology, immunology, epidemiology, and community-based participatory research (CBPR).


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Keeve Nachman, PhD*

Keeve’s research program focuses on the human health risks posed by drugs used in food animals. His publications include studies of antibiotic use in food animals and the development of antibiotic resistance, the use of arsenicals in poultry production, and environmental health policy and decision-making.


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Roni Neff, PhD*

Neff's work focuses on food system sustainability and resilience. She is engaged in multiple research projects on the issue of wasted food. Other topics of interest include farm policy, climate change and food system resilience, food system worker health, meat consumption, and framing connections between food systems and public health. Her three primary focuses are wasted food, meat consumption and climate change, and urban food system resilience.


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Jennifer Nuzzo, DrPH, SM

An epidemiologist by training, Nuzzo's work focuses on international and domestic biosurveillance, infectious disease diagnostics, and disease mitigation strategies.


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Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD

Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist, areas of expertise include community resilience to disaster, public engagement in policymaking, crisis and risk communication, and public health emergency preparedness.


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Brian Schwartz, MD*

Schwartz is an environmental epidemiologist investigating a broad range of environmental exposures and diseases, from specific toxicants like lead and other metals, to newer concerns such as the environmental health consequences of climate change, food production, and unconventional natural gas development.


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Genee Smith, PhD*

Smith is interested in the relationship between climate change and the severity or incidence of infectious diseases, and the association between air pollutant exposures and the incidence of active pulmonary tuberculosis in several populations in the U.S.


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Eric Toner, MD

Toner is an internist and emergency physician. His primary areas of interest are healthcare preparedness for catastrophic events, pandemic influenza, and medical response to bioterrorism.


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Crystal Watson, DrPH

Watson's policy research focuses on public health risk assessment, crisis and risk-based decision making during contamination emergencies, public health and medical preparedness and response, biodefense, and emerging infectious diseases. She also conducts research on the funding and management of biodefense and health security in the US federal government.


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 *Denotes faculty who are accepting PhD students.