CLIMATE CHAMPION: Shelby Hintze Jepperson
South Dakota academic helps university students chart sustainable interventions at the intersection of climate and public health
This post is part of SoDak 350's monthly "Climate Champions" blog series, where we chat with leaders in our community who are doing great work to build a sustainable future for eastern South Dakota.
This month we speak with Shelby Hintze Jepperson, assistant professor and public health educator. Shelby represents the academic research and study dedicated to improving the well-being of our local communities..
This conversation has been edited for clarity. The following views and opinions are Shelby's own.
What is "public health"?
Public health is protecting and improving the health of communities through the promotion of healthy behaviors, disease and injury prevention, and response to health issues. This means a healthy and safe place to live, learn, work, and play. Public health is focused on an entire community, from a neighborhood to a country.
What is your background and role?
I am an Assistant Professor of Practice. In addition to instructing, I spend my time on public health related grant projects. I have also worked on projects related to early hearing detection and intervention for infants, first responder and emergency medical services responses, as well as several Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) series. Prior to this, I worked in research at healthcare and academic institutions. I am a student in a PhD in Health Sciences program expecting to graduate in 2025. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Master of Public Health (MPH), and Graduate Certificate in Child and Adult Advocacy Studies (CAAS). I am also Certified in Public Health. My interests are related to environmental determinants of health for maternal and child populations.
From your perspective, what are the major climate-related public health issues for South Dakota?
Recently South Dakota has seen impacts to air quality and extreme weather at rates we had not experienced in the past. When people are unfamiliar with a type of climate event, they may not know how to respond. This is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations like children, older adults, and those that work outdoors. These populations and the next generations are counting on us to be informed and make positive changes.
How is public health preparing people to face these challenges?
I had the opportunity to develop and offer a new elective course, Climate Effects on Public Health, this past summer. This course explored how climate change influences human health. Students had the opportunity to develop an action plan proposing an intervention to address climate effects on health in their own community. Content covered topics like food systems, temperature extremes, air quality, vector borne disease, and biodiversity through the lens of how climate change exacerbates social inequities and challenges in health equity.
Public health is collaborative by nature, so it is already working with other health science disciplines like nursing and combining efforts with programs like sustainability to share resources and promising efforts. This has included being a part of campus wide events like the Earth Day Worldwide Climate Justice Teach-In as an opportunity to raise awareness of how health is immensely impacted by climate.
Are there actions that individuals can take to address these problems?
Yes, find out what is being done to address resilience to climate related public health issues in your community. Everyone can and needs to be part of the solution. You can do this by educating yourself, your community, and decision makers in your community on the importance of climate effects on public health in your community and empower them to make changes.
In a place like South Dakota with a strong appreciation for our outdoors and agricultural heritage, we are already in a good position to increase our resilience to climate impacts by conserving, restoring, and advocating for nature. This can be as simple as using native vegetation, having green spaces in our communities, and supporting regenerative farming.
Thank you for your awesome work, Shelby!