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BPH student Laura Diaz named a “Student of the Year” by the Esri Innovation Program

We’re pleased to announce that UC Berkeley School of Public Health student Laura Diaz, MPH 2022, has been named a “Student of the Year” by the Esri Innovation Program (EIP). The program encourages educators and students to advance geospatial science in research and education through ArcGIS technology.

This year, there were 28 Student of the Year awardees from 22 institutions, including Diaz’s project on the history of environmental justice and the impact of environmental pollutants in Pittsburg, California. Her project was also featured in a Science Friday educator guide.

Diaz, who is a student in Berkeley Public Health’s Online MPH program grew up in Pittsburg just miles away from the Dow Chemical plant located there and developed negative health outcomes as a result, sees environmental justice in the Bay Area not as an interest, but as a pursuit “central to her professional passion.”

“I am driven to do my research because I understand firsthand how urgent this issue is,” she says.” My family and my community were overburdened so that neighboring, more affluent white communities could be under-burdened.” she said.

“I care to continue analyzing the root cause for health disparities, so that communities like my hometown become prioritized zones of opportunity. I am forced to deal with the lifelong impacts of my chronic illness, but we can help prevent that from happening to future generations.”

The nonprofit Educator Collective for Environmental Justice, for which Diaz is the director, is currently partnering with La Clinica Pittsburg Medical on a community-based participatory research project aiming to train the clinic’s promotoras de salud—the Spanish term for community health workers—to facilitate workshops on monitoring air quality in Pittsburg.

This work will culminate with a community “toxic tour” of all the places in Pittsburg with poor or toxic air in an effort to educate local residents about pollution exposure and actions they can take to mitigate it, including encouraging the city to sign on to the “Diesel Free by ’33” plan—a pledge from cities and counties to end the use of diesel fuels by 2033—and collaborating with the city to create an environmental justice action plan.