Katie Marchione

Studying Earth's vitality

June 14, 2024

Student Experience

Climate change, plastics pollution, biodiversity loss — all of those contribute to the overall vitality of Earth. But there’s not one umbrella program at UR for teaching students how to gauge the well-being of the planet and how it connects to human health and well-being.

Over the past year, rising senior Katie Marchione spent hours combing through websites and academic catalogs of more than 1,000 colleges and universities to understand how higher education is teaching the topic.

“’Planetary Health’ is a newer term and field in general, without a set curriculum,” said Marchione, who was prompted to conduct the research after taking a course on epidemiology and research methods.

She focused on undergraduate and graduate programs that crossed at the intersection of health and the environment. Working with an international research team, including health studies professor Kathryn Jacobsen, her research mentor, she looked at which schools were teaching the subject, how they were teaching it, and what terms they used for the study.

“We were surprised that very few programs actually use the term ‘Planetary Health,’ and yet teach very similar objectives,” Marchione said.

Her research identified four educational models in use: 1) One Health, based in veterinary training that emphasizes the interrelatedness of human, animal, and ecosystem health, 2) Climate Medicine, also known as climate change and health, which is used in many medical schools, 3) Global Environmental Public Health, and 4) Sustainability and Health.

“Each of the models emphasizes a different aspect of the interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health,” said Jacobsen, the William E. Cooper Distinguished University Chair in Health Studies. “We hope that our research will enable educators at diverse colleges and universities to create curricula that draw on the strengths of all four models.”

The research resulted in a paper published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, which looked at shared education goals under the planetary health model. “It was immensely rewarding to see the research I did come to life and ultimately share it on a platform where others can learn and read about what we accomplished,” Marchione said.

“We hope that our research will enable educators at diverse colleges and universities to create curricula that draw on the strengths of all four models.”

headshot of Kathryn Jacobsen
Kathryn Jacobsen
The William E. Cooper Distinguished University Chair, Health Studies

Marchione presented her findings at the annual Consortium of Universities for Global Health earlier this year and was selected to serve as a campus ambassador for the Planetary Health Alliance, which raises awareness about the adverse health impacts of environmental change.

Back on campus, she shared the research with the Office of Sustainability and other groups as part of her ambassador duties. She also met with Jeremy Scott Hoffman, a geologist and director of climate justice and impact at Groundwork USA. He has previously taught a course on climate change and health, and this fall will teach Richmond’s first course on the spectrum of planetary health topics.

Marchione is majoring in both biochemistry and health studies, with a goal of attending medical school. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes early in high school, Marchione plans to specialize in endocrinology so she can treat patients who share her condition.

Her planetary research is a sidebar to working as a lab researcher with Wade Downey, professor of chemistry and Clarence E. Denoon Jr. Chair in Natural Sciences. She presented her supporting work on organic chemistry at the American Chemical Society’s southeast regional meeting this spring.

“I was initially drawn to health studies research in general, but I had no idea what I specifically wanted to look into,” Marchione said. “Dr. Jacobsen reached out regarding this project, and it intrigued me as it’s something unlike anything I’ve done before.”