Read Claire’s story about how UAB and Coosa Riverkeeper team up to educate students about the intersection of public health and water quality.
Claire is a Senior at UAB getting a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Global Health. She was a service-learning student during the fall who dedicated 20 hours in her busy semester to support Coosa Riverkeeper’s efforts to protect, restore, and promote the Coosa River. She currently lives in the Coosa Valley but is from Indiana originally. She loves plants, and has an eye for organization (she totally Marie Kondo’d our storage area). She starts medical school next fall!
Each semester the UAB Ryals School of Public Health teams up with Coosa Riverkeeper to engage students in all things water safety and public health. A service-learning class focusing on food, water, and air allows students to team up with the Coosa Riverkeeper to learn more about water quality and it’s effects on public health in the Alabama community. My fellow student volunteers do everything from writing blog posts to organizing important data sets to facilitating community engagement events, like the Cheers to the Coosa event, and others.These students will become public health officials and academic researchers who can use the skills they learn about water quality to keep the public informed and be informed policymakers.
Personally, I’ve learned about all the stakeholders and community partners it takes to keep the Coosa protected and the public informed, and I was inspired by the passion of all the staff and the board of directors. I had the opportunity to spend time with a few members of the Coosa Riverkeeper team, and we connected about how the river impacts agriculture and business all over the state. I also learned some strategies on how to connect with new people, share my passions,
and communicate the importance of preserving all of the heritage of our state, including the Coosa.
Leaders at the Riverkeeper came to speak to our public health class about common pollutants like methyl mercury, PCBs, sediment, and bacteria and their sources and then inspired students like myself signed up to volunteer and volunteer in thecapacity that best suits us.
The primary class partner that Coosa Riverkeeper works with is PUH 333, a course for public health majors and minors that focuses specifically on sustainable human development. We partner with the Coosa Riverkeeper and two other organizations to learn how clean water, clean air, and food sustainability principles learned in the classroom apply in real life and to be exposed to some of the real-life challenges that arise when fighting for sustainable and ethical water practices.
Topics in the class include issues of availability, access, and use of food in the local context, issues of water resources, sustainability, and treatment and outdoor and indoor air quality issues, as well as current responses and potential solutions. Working with Coosa Riverkeeper shows students how all of these major issues overlap right here in Alabama.
Coosa Riverkeeper and seven other community partners work with the UAB Department of Service Learning to find opportunities for students to engage with their community while learning about the Alabama river system, water pollution, and public fishing safety. Many of these students become our wonderful interns, and water safety advocates all across Alabama and the Southeast.