Melpomene Vasiliou – Melpo to her friends – has always wanted to be a lawyer. Her undergraduate studies in political science, international affairs and Middle Eastern studies culminated in a thesis about climate change as a driver of conflict in Egypt. As this interest in climate change started to take focus, she realized that health is a point of entry to engaging people in the environment. “The food we eat and the water we drink,” are important to everyone and everyone’s children. “It is an area through which we can effect change in the United States.”
Now a second year MPH student in the Department of Environmental Health Science, Melpo is committed to developing her skills in public health so that she can truly be an effective advocate in environmental policy. This is not just buying time before law school, she says. “I want solid skills in my toolkit to understand and interpret science.” The scarcity of people with this combination of skills, was shocking to her given how directly environment regulation impacts human health. In today’s political climate that is more important than ever, she says, because we are not going to solve climate change issues with top down approaches such as the Paris agreement. “It is going to take small, incremental changes by individuals and local- and state-level policy. The ways states enforce and regulate environmental health are critical to slowing and mitigating climate change.”
At the Yale School of Public Health, Melpo has been deeply involved with the Climate Change and Health Initiative, last year as a student associate and this year as the student associate coordinator. Working with professors Robert Dubrow and Laura Bozzi, she is impressed by the interdisciplinary approaches and perspectives that the CCHI brings together. With students from the college and all the graduate schools, there can be 10 different disciplines represented around the table and the possibilities that such teams offer to problem solving.
In a similar vein, at the Aspen Institute last summer, she worked to raise the profile of health in the organization’s environmental offerings. Every program sponsored by the Institute can touch on health, from energy to agriculture. In addition to raising the profile of health in the organization’s current offerings, she was able to conceptualize and outline future offerings that convene experts around the issue of climate change and health and its many facets, including emergency preparedness, pesticide use, food access and nutrition.