The University of Nebraska will receive a $5 million gift to create a new program to address some of Nebraska’s most pressing public health issues associated with water and climate.
The Water, Climate and Health program will be based in the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health and brings together experts from the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska to conduct research and disseminate information on environmental issues related to water, climate and health.
Anne Hubbard, a retired physician, alumna of UNMC and member of the University of Nebraska Foundation Board of Directors, has made a $5 million gift commitment to the University of Nebraska Foundation through her family’s foundation, the Claire M. Hubbard Foundation, to create the program.
“Until the pandemic, public health did not get much publicity, and it is significantly underfunded,” Hubbard said. “The idea of public health is to prevent disease instead of just treat it. I decided to focus on water quality after learning more about diseases in Nebraska that may be related to water. The University of Nebraska is doing important work in water quality and climate change. Human health is significantly affected by our environment. As we make the disease-environment connection, are there things we can do about it?”
Dr. Hubbard said she was particularly interested in the university’s ability to draw experts together from UNMC’s College of Public Health, Daugherty Water for Food Institute and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to address these issues
The Water, Climate and Health program will work in three main capacities:
- Bring diverse university experts together to solve complex issues;
- Find technical and policy solutions to improve the environment for better human health; and
- Provide experiences for students studying these issues.
Research topics the program could address include:
- Links between the state’s water quality and pediatric cancer and birth defects;
- Health outcomes related to Nebraska’s flooding;
- The impact of technology, such as precision application of nitrogen fertilizer on soil and water quality; and
- Mapping of at-risk populations and environmental exposures in the state.
“These are all issues that affect people around the globe,” Dr. Hubbard said.
“Dr. Hubbard’s gift to the College of Public Health and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Daugherty Water for Food Institute is transformational in nature and will directly impact the health of people in the state, region and nationally,” said Ali S. Khan, MD, MPH, Dean, UNMC College of Public Health. “Her gift will allow us to look at the spectrum of environmental issues at the nexus of water and health. All the way from what is happening in the environment that are the sources of our water to its health impacts on humans. We also will ensure we are sustainably looking at how water use occurs in our state and beyond.”
Dr. Hubbard’s gift not only provides program start-up funds but also will make possible a named professorship and support graduate and professional students who are conducting research in water, climate and health. The student support funds are being matched by a gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation, which will allow more students to receive research stipends. The gift also is meant to fund outreach to Nebraska middle and high school students and educators, to engage them in issues of public health and the environment and inspire them to pursue a career in public health.
Mike Boehm, PhD, NU vice-president for agriculture and natural resources and IANR Harlan vice-chancellor at UNL, said the gift would help students build valuable, interdisciplinary relationships early in their careers.
“This gift makes it possible for students interested in public health to work alongside students studying water quality and climate and a host of other interrelated issues,” Boehm said. “These students will be tomorrow’s practitioners and leaders, and will begin their careers with a broad understanding of the interconnectedness of water, climate and health, along with deep connections to their peers across these fields. That’s the true power of this gift.”
Jesse Bell, Ph.D., an expert in public environmental health and environmental science, has been named as the director for the new program and will hold the Claire M. Hubbard Professorship of Water, Climate and Health. Dr. Bell is currently an associate professor of health environment in the UNMC College of Public Health. With his appointment as the program director, Dr. Bell also will assume a leadership position within the Daugherty Water for Food Institute.
“Water quality and its effect on public health is one of DWFI’s top five areas of focus,” said DWFI’s Executive Director, Peter G. McCornick. “We are very pleased to welcome Jesse Bell to our leadership team, as his expertise in connecting the effects of water quality and climate change on public health is a tremendous addition to our capabilities. Dr. Hubbard’s generous gift will foster collaboration and accelerate progress in ensuring health and quality of life under changing conditions here in Nebraska and beyond and achieving our mission of a water and food secure world.”
Dr. Hubbard encouraged other donors to take advantage of the matching gift offer from the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation, as she did, to provide more financial support for students interested in studying Nebraska’s water, climate and health. Matching funds are available through 2020.
Brian Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation, said, “Anne Hubbard cares deeply not only about Nebraska, its people and natural resources, but about our planet. Her gift will support scientific research that will lead to a healthier state for all of us to live, work and play.”