Climate Change and Health Internship at the American Public Health Association

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Alyssa Bialek spent her summer in an internship with the American Public Health Association (APHA) in their Climate and Health Equity Center completing research and outreach for the center. Alyssa is a senior, Class ’19, majoring in public health.

This summer, I interned at the American Public Health Association (APHA) in Washington D.C. I worked for their new Climate and Health Equity Center. APHA was an amazing organization to be a part of – it is a 150-year-old national non-profit that champions the health of all people and communities. The Climate and Health Equity Center focuses on advancing the conversation of climate change where it intersects with health equity and justice.

My job included completing research on issues, developing fact sheets, blog posts and background reports, supporting outreach and communication to members and partners, and contributing content to climate webpages. In addition, I was able to attend hearings, briefings, meetings, and interact with APHA leadership and members.

My primary project was making regional climate change fact sheets for APHA’s annual Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp. On July 15th and 16th, over 200 students and young professionals from all over the country came to D.C. to learn more about climate change and how they can educate and advocate for climate policy change. On day one, we attended talks on how to advocate effectively, communications strategies, climate change journalism, climate change science, and environmental justice.

On day two, we met with our representative or senator – at that meeting, we presented our regional climate change pitch and recommend actions to be taken. Then we were able to leave behind a folder with resources. My climate change fact sheet for each region was one of the the four things that was left behind. Hopefully this information will help representatives see how climate change will affect the health of their constituents.

In order to organize ourselves to lobby on Capitol Hill, we were divided into groups my state. My Maryland group had about 12 people. We had to create a plan for how we were going to talk to our representative about climate change, incorporating personal stories, facts, and concrete asks. In that group, I ended up becoming the leader and creating our plan.

I was nervous at first because I was the youngest one there and I also assumed that everyone would be more knowledgeable than me. I was wrong though – participants came to the Bootcamp so that they could learn about climate change and health, not because they were already experts. In fact, many people came from completely different fields and were learning about climate change advocacy for the first time. As a participant and APHA employee, I was in a unique position of being the most knowledgeable about climate change in my group and able to lead the charge. We came up with a game plan for how we were going to talk to our representatives, and I think we were largely successful with getting our story across by appealing to emotions and presenting facts and figures.

First, we had our climate change intro and overview combined with thanking our representatives for the hard work they had already done. Then, we had 3 personal Maryland climate change stories that some of us were in charge of telling. This is where I came in. I told the legislatives aides about my personal experience with Lyme Disease – how 6 people on my street had gotten it, including my mom. One had gotten it twice and almost died. In my area of Maryland, it’s something we all have to think about every time we go outside. I tried to lay out the facts as well as appeal to emotions, which is a hard balance.

After telling our personal climate change stories, we wrapped up by asking what we were there to ask: an increase in funding for the CDC’s Climate and Health Program as well as co-sponsorship of the Climate Change Health Promotion and Protection Act. Overall, lobbying went really well and helped me learn so much about how the advocacy process works.

Visiting the office of Senator Chris Van Hollen to talk to him about climate change and health issues in Maryland.

At the Bootcamp, I met such a huge variety of people who worked in the medical, public health, climate change, and environmental health field. I was in a group of 10 Marylanders – we all had such diverse interests and career paths but connected over our passion for climate change and health advocacy. 

A highlight this summer has definitely been meeting new people and building relationships. There are about 16 other interns and we regularly go to lunch together as well as after-work events, bonding over our passion for public health. I also made it a goal of mine to network with at least 5 professionals. I asked a few senior APHA staff members to coffee as well as attending two networking events in D.C. In fact, one event was the Newcomb alumnae networking event! I met a lot of amazing women who shared with me what it’s like to live and work in D.C. and we talked about their career path and future goals.

View from Nancy Pelosis balcony!

After the summer, I now consider myself very knowledgeable on all the different ways climate change has an impact on health. For example, some of these include extreme heat, increase of vector-borne disease, food insecurity, flooding, increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events, drought, wildfires, etc. Through creating regional climate change and health fact sheets, I know a lot about how each of these climate impacts affect different areas of the country. As you can imagine, vector-borne disease, flooding, extreme weather events, and extreme heat are the climate change and health threats that face New Orleans, and these will continue to worsen. 

The work itself can be sad when dealing with the climate crisis, but I have built many skills as a result of this internship. I have furthered my skills in research, graphic design, writing, communications, video development, and advocacy. I will be able to use all of these in graduate school and future jobs. I cannot wait to see how this experience will impact me in the future!

APHA interns finish out our summer internships!