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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Katya Altman

July 1, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Katya Altman studied public relations and communications as an undergraduate in her native Russia, but she quickly realized that she could pair her training in these areas with her long-time passion for environmental advocacy and engaging others to make more sustainable decisions. She believes it is possible to find a balance between meeting the needs of the current population and protecting nature for future generations.

“It is important to be an advocate for your most important values,” Altman says. “I aspire to contribute to transitioning the planet to a more sustainable future by making evidence-based and mindful decisions and engaging communities in choices that protect public health and foster well-being in the long-term.”

With these aims in mind, Altman moved to the United States to further her education, earning a Master of Earth and Environmental Resources Management in UofSC’s School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment while gaining experience with Sustainable Carolina, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, the SC Department of Natural Resources, and UofSC’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RISA team (i.e., Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments). She continued working with this team on drought preparedness and response on the state level after her 2013 graduation – working closely with the State Climatology Office and SC Emergency Management Division on updates to the SC Hazard Mitigation Plan and other projects. With Altman’s help, the team won the 2018 Notable State Document Award for the website they created to share drought-related information.

These experiences and Altman’s volunteer work with a water quality monitoring program led her deeper into the intersection of environmental sciences and public health. She returned to UofSC in 2017 to pursue a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences – a doctoral program offered by the Arnold School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, which had offered some of her favorite master’s-level courses.

“The program offers solid public health knowledge and connects all that I love – environmental science, public health, and community engagement,” Altman says. “It was an excellent choice that led to many opportunities.”

Thus far, those opportunities have included helping teach environmental health sciences courses and working with the administrative and community engagement cores of the Arnold School’s Center for Oceans and Human Health and Climate Change Interactions. She also spent a summer immersed in a sustainable climate risk management program at Penn State University, participated in UofSC’s Graduate Civic Scholars program, served as the founding president of the UofSC Chapter of the American Water Works Association, led her department’s student organization as president and vice president, represented her program on the Arnold School’s Dean’s Student Advisory Council, and served on the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Initiatives.

Altman’s interests include using transdisciplinary sustainability science and collaborative approaches to tackle complex societal problems, such as climate change, that affect public health. “I am working with coastal communities to develop shared vision and commitment to action in environmental sustainability, adaptation to climate extremes, and public health protection by considering climate change impacts on stormwater and water quality,” she says.

Working with community engagement core researchers Dwayne PorterDaniela Friedman and Heath Kelsey as well as students from the Center, Altman co-authored a paper in the Journal of Health Communication (in press) about science communication and research translation. After interviewing the principal investigators of the Center for Oceans and Human Health and Climate Change Interactions about their science communication and research translation perceptions, experiences and training needs, the researchers developed a science communication training for Center members.

“Katya was instrumental in working with our Center’s deputy director Paul Sandifer, then-administrative core lead Elizabeth Caulder and community engagement core lead Dwyane Porter to organize and host the annual meeting of all four of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/National Science Foundation Centers on Oceans and Human Health Center,” says Geoff Scott, principal investigator/director of the Center for Oceans and Human Health and Climate Change Interactions and chair of the environmental health sciences department. “This work has led to the development of a National Oceans and Human Health Community Engagement Strategy for better informing the public about the public health effects of harmful algal blooms, Vibrio bacterial infections and contaminants of emerging concern.”

Through her program and work experiences, Altman has found mentors in her department, across the Arnold School and at various academic institutions, professional organizations and governmental agencies. By seeking out projects that convene diverse perspectives and approaches, she is learning to effectively apply the transdisciplinary lens that she believes will make all the difference in this work.

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