Audrey Tran Lam is an Environmental Health Program Manager at the Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE) within the University of Northern Iowa. In her interview, Audrey shares about her background in agricultural health and how her work addresses solutions to a range of Iowa's most pressing issues, all while working to promote sustainable and innovative farming. Although Audrey is a new member of NEHA, she has quickly found value in NEHA membership, read on to learn how she makes the most of her membership from networking through NEHA.
NEHA: Have you always had a passion for environmental health? What led you to where you are today?
Audrey: Definitely, I've always had a passion for environmental health. During my AmeriCorps service terms in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while performing energy audits and low-impact weatherizations and working on our host site's urban farm, I started to better understand the relationship between ecological health and human health - especially as they relate to agriculture. When I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Occupational and Environmental Health, it was to better position myself professionally to address these intersections. Right now, I work at a university center that provides incredible enthusiasm and support for my work.
NEHA: What is a highlight of your career and what makes the work worthwhile?
Audrey: The highlight of my career (so far!) has been having the opportunity to network and learn from all the incredible professionals in the field. One of my main goals, in whatever career I landed in, has always been to continue my education, whether formally or informally. I'm so fortunate to say I'm in a position to do both! I'm taking classes through Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health towards a certificate, and regularly attend educational conferences. Also, being a grant-funded staff member means I can essentially write my own job description every grant cycle. This, of course, is a double-edged sword! But the opportunity to address emerging environmental health issues in my state makes it worth it.
NEHA: How is the Center for Energy and Environmental Education addressing environmental health challenges in your community?
Audrey: I currently serve as the CEEE's Environmental Health Program Manager. I manage a few state-wide programs: Good Neighbor Iowa, and Farming for Public Health. My work primarily addresses upstream, agricultural solutions to some of Iowa's most pressing environmental health issues--water quality, soil loss, excessive pesticide use, childhood toxics exposure, flooding and disaster response, rural economic vitality, and soil health. I work to educate public health practitioners about how sustainable agricultural practices are practical, profitable, evidenced-based, and are being practiced today by innovative farmers. Public health is a team sport, and these sustainable farmers are some of the best public health practitioners around! Additionally, I also do some work in healthy homes, indoor air quality in schools, and climate-friendly nutrition.
NEHA: You joined NEHA this past May, what value do you find in holding a NEHA membership?
Audrey: As I've alluded to above, networking and educational opportunities have been critical to the work I'm able to do now. Being a part of a professional organization like NEHA presents me with so many valuable settings and opportunities to meet and learn from individuals who are passionate about their work, who care about and understand the issues I'm trying to address in Iowa, and to be infused with new ideas and enthusiasm. Part of the reason I love attending the NEHA AEC is to re-energize myself with the excitement and success of my peers!
NEHA: What hobbies do you enjoy outside of your profession?
Audrey: I love to garden. I spent four seasons working on a 2.5-acre urban farm during a few AmeriCorps service terms while working on my master’s and haven't been able to stop growing food since. I've just started getting into running, so if anyone has any training tips for me, shoot me an email; I'm hoping to run my first half marathon at the end of April 2020!
The picture above is of Audrey in a field of oats at an on-farm field day in Iowa.