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SDSU team announced as Student Champions for Climate Justice award winners

Three students from South Dakota State University have been awarded the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Student Champions for Climate Justice Award. The team proposed an academic community experience that “shows how climate change affects health equality.”

APHA

“It is inspiring to see the passion these students have to not only raise awareness about climate justice issues but to move action forward among their academic communities” said Evelyn Maldonado, the APHA center’s program associate.


SDSU’s team includes Madison DeJarlais, a geographic information sciences major; Jaimie Roggenbauer, a student in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program; and Peggy Harper, also an MPH student and an instructor in the geography and geospatial sciences department. Their proposed experience addresses food access and food deserts in South Dakota. Through the project, the team will develop an informational map showing how climate change impacts access to food in South Dakota, along with other educational resources including two podcasts and a trivia game. 


For Harper, Roggenbauer and Dejarlais, climate change’s impact on food access in South Dakota is an important issue. Harper said, “Climate change is global in scale and many don’t understand how this global phenomenon can impact our everyday lives. Public health, especially regarding the availability of healthy food, brings climate change to a very personal level.”


Roggenbauer is a native of South Dakota who enjoys rock climbing in the Black Hills. She said she “can see how climate change has impacted the natural landscape, and especially on our reservation lands.” Those living on reservations are one of the populations most impacted by limited food access in the state. “The issues we are discussing here disproportionately affect the Native American community in South Dakota,” DeJarlais said. 


In the rural state of South Dakota, food access has been an issue for many populations and the effects of climate change have exacerbated the need for a solution. According to DeJarlais, the United States is facing a number of public health crises, including “food deserts.” A food desert, DeJarlais said, is a “geographic area where there is limited reasonable access to affordable healthy foods.”


The goal of the project is to create awareness and resources to improve food access in the state. One of the resources to be developed is the creation of maps of food resources. Harper said, “We will map locations of food banks, local farmers’ markets, community gardens, urban foraging (if available) and other places that can provide food to local community residents. The maps will also pinpoint areas that are lacking in these food outlets: the food deserts.” 


Harper said the next step is to “create a plan to build our climate justice experience.” Their team is working on contacting South Dakota Indigenous leaders and experts in climate change and public health for their input in the development of resources, including the maps and podcasts. 


“It would be amazing if our work could be utilized by the public to help petition for actual change, like lobbying for community gardens, food drives, food fridges and/or mobile markets,” said DeJarlais. She added that there are ways to address the problem of food deserts that do not involve opening a grocery store, which can sometimes harm communities through gentrification.  


One strategy to increase awareness of the impact of climate change on food access in the state is through the development of two podcasts. For the first podcast, the team is partnering with South Dakota Urban Indian Health to provide educational information on how climate change has impacted and is impacting Indigenous populations. The other is a podcast presentation from SDSU’s Master of Public Health core program “Public Health and Native American Communities” that will educate listeners on climate change and how it impacts public health issues in South Dakota. 


According to Harper, the goal of these podcasts is to “highlight the impact on at-risk populations: Indigenous people and residents living in rural areas of South Dakota. These groups are already at risk for many current public health issues including access to healthy foods.” DeJarlais said that the podcasts will “give a voice to those who have been systematically underrepresented and unheard in both the social and political sphere.” 


The team has begun work on the development of these resources and hopes to make them available over the next few months. Through projects like this, public health students and professionals, like Harper, DeJarlais and Roggenbauer, are working hard to combat public health issues created or exacerbated by climate change.


The student team will receive $500 to support their proposed experience. Other student team winners hail from Georgetown University, University of Florida, Loyola University Chicago and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 


“Hint to help your score in the trivia game—some of the answers will be provided within the story map and the podcasts,” Harper added. 


South Dakota State University offers an online Master of Public Health program in collaboration with the University of South Dakota. The program and its expert faculty are committed to supporting local, state, federal and tribal health departments and to graduate students who will go on to improve the state of public health in South Dakota and beyond. To learn more about the program, visit: https://www.sdstate.edu/pharmacy-allied-health-professions/master-public-health