Sierra Brantz, MPH, B.A., B.S.

Gillings School of Public Health
Public Health and Disaster Management and Preparedness

Growing up in a small rural mining town in Idaho and traveling abroad on mission trips to small communities in high school, I learned about the warmth and care that community can provide and how our environment, what we do, and where we live impacts our health. Motivated by my want to make a positive impact and continue learning from other cultures as I did during the mission trips, I pursued a double major in Environmental Science and International Studies at the University of Idaho. My freshman year, we went on a fieldtrip to a Superfund Site contaminated with heavy metals, which also happened to be my hometown. This made me a unique specimen in the undergraduate class because I was able to provide first-hand experience and knowledge on the community- and individual-level impacts to health, the environment, and the economy. Even with this experience, it wasn’t until my junior year that I fully grasped what public health was and how I was unknowingly pursuing research topics, exploring career paths, and pushing for equity related to health. This realization came collectively from a conversation with a public health professor, an internship in environmental health at my hometown’s local health district, and a seminar course on global health put on by the international studies program. I then took steps to pursue a career in public health outside of school work. My senior year, I ran for and was elected the director of safety, health, and wellness in student government, and subsequently applied to graduate school to further explore public health.

I started my Master of Public Health and Disaster Management and Preparedness certificate program at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health fall of 2021 with Covid-19 still heavily impacting communities and school structure. Coming into a public health program during a pandemic brought constant conversation about prevention, health equity in the face of a Covid-19, and how we can decolonize public health with our actions; thus, driving me into various health research topics from One Health to child environmental health to home-built environment in humanitarian crisis. I also perused job opportunities such as a North Carolina health district graduate intern, where I redesigned the county’s Heathy Homes Program to encompass more factors affecting home health. Then, as the Core Instructional Coordinator for Gillings, I facilitated integration and equity meetings among public health instructors and evaluated feedback from students to improve the MPH program. Now, with my knowledge of public health, I have a passion to work in this field because it improves health equity, empowers communities to take actionable steps to improve their well-being and provides upstream solutions to downstream problems. Public health makes a positive impact across the globe, and I want to continue to be a part of that positive change.

As an ASPPH/EPA fellow, I have the unique opportunity to share my knowledge of public health and contribute to improving environmental health in the Western Balkans while learning more about the ecological processes of climate change in the region and the impact that can be made from a federal level. In this program, I hope to support efforts to evaluate what has been accomplished, and what can be improved and done to improve environmental health resiliency in the face of regional instability and climate change. My fellowship will include collaboration with managers, scientists, and leaders inside and outside the EPA and abroad to evaluate climate change resiliency across underserved communities in the Western Balkan Drini – Drina River Watershed through local sustainable development measures. This work will be conducted by collaboratively implementing evaluation frameworks and developing qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. I also have the opportunity to travel to the Western Balkans and hope to facilitate workshops and co-design manuscripts summarizing challenges, lessons learned, and possible next steps in applying resiliency tools to improve local community resiliency to ongoing climate change impacts.