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Improving the environment in her own good nature(d) way
Rollins School of Public Health student Autumn McNeill

Autumn McNeill combines her love of the environment with a social sciences perspective, finding ways to educate or involve others in creating solutions face-to-face and through social media.

Autumn McNeill is a people person in every sense of the word, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that she’s drawn to work that enables her to engage with people.

Though she always knew she wanted to help others, McNeill wasn’t exactly sure how until she participated in Project IMHOTEP, an 11-week summer internship offered through the CDC’s Undergraduate Health Scholars program and facilitated by Morehouse College, while she was an undergraduate at Howard University.

Place and program: an unbeatable combination

Through that internship program, McNeill discovered a love for both public health and Atlanta while conducting a research project on HIV surveillance in Black communities in the area. With several of her IMHOTEP cohort relocating to Atlanta after the program, McNeill was determined to attend school in Atlanta. Now that she’s officially a master of public health alumna, McNeill notes that she felt she made the right choice by attending Rollins.

“My experience here has been phenomenal,” she says. “I’ve grown in confidence in my interests and career field. I don’t know that I would have gotten this same experience anywhere else.”

With undergraduate degrees in sociology and environmental studies, McNeill was drawn to the Department of Behavioral, Social and Health Education Sciences, then decided to add a certificate in climate and health to better tailor her degree to an environmental focus.

“I’m not an environmental scientist,” she stresses. “Instead, I like looking at the environment from the social sciences perspective. I like to go talk to the community, involve the community in the process, educate others and come up with solutions.”

During her time at Rollins, McNeill has expanded her knowledge and grown in her sense of self through coursework; leadership roles with student organizations, Rollins Environmental Health Action Coalition and Association of Black Public Health Students (which recently recognized her as leader of the year); and hands-on experiences with both CDC’s WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) division and as a Ferguson Fellow in CDC’s Emergency Response and Recovery branch. 

For her capstone project — and under the advisement of Noah Scovronick, assistant professor of environmental health — McNeill focused on the impact of greenspaces on gentrification in urban spaces. She included multiple recommendations at both the local and federal level to help prevent displacement and improve health equity and access to nature for persons of color.

The challenge of coming up with creative solutions in partnership with communities — particularly communities of color — is something McNeill finds fulfilling and has explored through Instagram as well. Her personal account (@publichealthbarbie) chronicles McNeill’s graduate experience but also explores the idea that being an environmentalist doesn’t have to look a certain way.

“Not all of us wear baggy jeans and sneakers,” she laughs. “There is room for all types of people to do this work.”

Social savvy

Through @environmentalbae (beautifully authentic environmentalist), McNeill shares educational tips, resources and product recommendations to help facilitate conversations around environmentalism and to share her love of the environment with others. She hopes to someday expand the concept into a nonprofit organization or business that is targeted specifically to communities of color. 

Next up, McNeill has secured a position as an environmental planner with CDM Smith, an environmental engineering consulting firm, where she’ll embark on community engagement and advisement. 

“Create the career you want to see and never let anyone tell you that your dream isn’t worth dreaming,” McNeill reflects. “Do what makes you happy and I promise everything else will fall into place.”

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