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Connecting Environment to Health in Texas & Beyond

The Center for Health and Environment: Education and Research at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin is a hub for multidisciplinary environmental health sciences research and education.

The center brings together experts from across UT Austin and beyond, and its steering committee includes representatives from the Steve Hicks School of Social WorkCollege of PharmacyCockrell School of Engineering, Jackson School of Geosciences and College of Natural Sciences. The center also partners with the Office of the Vice President for Research, Scholarship and Creative Endeavors.

Elizabeth Matsui, M.D., MHS, leads the center and its work to improve the health of people locally and globally by exploring the effects of environmental exposures borne by air, water and soil. To address health disparities, the center investigates how these exposures disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations, including Black and Latinx/Hispanic communities, as well as those living in poverty.

Areas of Focus

Population health is an important focus for the center since environmental exposures are distributed geographically and have population-scale effects. These exposures perpetuate health disparities. The center aims to increase awareness of the population health and disparity implications of environmental exposures with the goal of stimulating the cross-sector, systems-level change needed to improve health. This work involves sectors such as health care, housing, urban planning, economics and environmental policy.

The center rapidly fosters knowledge that improves health by bringing together a critical mass of faculty across disciplines in environmental health. Sponsored activities include an invited speaker series; active working groups led by faculty within CHEER and across the UT campus; pilot project funding to encourage environmental health sciences scholarship and research; and other events to promote engagement and collaboration.

The center also engages a range of learners — medical students, undergraduate and graduate students, residents, fellows, faculty and staff — in health and environment education. The center enables sponsorship of graduate students and interdisciplinary postdocs.

About Environmental Health Research

Elizabeth Matsui, M.D., MHS, discusses CHEER and her ongoing research.

CHEER Seminar Series

The Center for Health and Environment: Education and Research hosts a seminar series focusing on the diversity of work being done in environmental health-related research and education.

The series features UT faculty working in environmental health sciences as well as invited, external experts. Information and dates for upcoming seminars can be found on the UT Austin and Dell Med event calendars and through announcements in e-newsletters.

CHEER Partnerships

The Center for Health and Environment: Education and Research plays a key role in a variety of research, educational and policy activities at UT Austin and in the Austin metropolitan area. The activities range from scientific mentorship to students to community engagement to advising local and state organizations.

CHEER has helped spearhead an environmental health advocacy writing program for the medical student-led Environmental Health Interest Group in partnership with Lisa Doggett, M.D., MPH; Lesa Walker, M.D.; and the Environmental Defense Fund. CHEER also supports Community-Driven Initiatives in its partnerships with community-based organizations focused on environmental health advocacy.

CHEER Fellows & Early Career Faculty

Center for Health and Environment: Education and Research postdoctoral fellows work with the center’s faculty on a range of environmental health topics.

  • Darlene Bhavnani, Ph.D., MPH, is a faculty member and infectious disease epidemiologist in Dell Med’s Department of Population Health and Biomedical Data Science Hub. Bhavnani’s interests include conducting research on infectious disease transmission, strengthening health and surveillance systems, and the design and evaluation of public health interventions. She works with Elizabeth Matsui, M.D., MHS.
  • Fellow Sarah Chambliss, Ph.D., is an environmental engineer specializing in urban air quality with a focus on the drivers of neighborhood-scale pollution gradients and their implications for exposure and environmental justice. She works with Corwin Zigler, Ph.D.
  • Fellow Dan Katz, Ph.D., is a plant ecologist studying the factors that determine J. ashei (“mountain cedar”) pollen levels and how exposure to the pollen may lead to increases in emergency department visits for asthma. He works with Elizabeth Matsui, M.D., MHS.
  • Emily Croce, RN-CPNP, is a pediatric nurse practitioner focusing on pediatric dermatology. She is also a postdoctoral research affiliate in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work working with Catherine Cubbin, Ph.D.

CHEER Steering Committee

The Center for Health and Environment: Education and Research’s steering committee includes experts from across UT who have track records of sustained funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Environmental Health in Action

Email the team