Features Public Health Students

Decreasing air pollution and increasing environmental awareness

Sigride Asseko is committed to improving health in low-income areas

Portrait of Sigride Asseko

By Andrew Mobbs

Sigride Asseko has long been fascinated by the intersection of global health and the environment. This interest began when she was a child in Gabon, her home country, and continued when she found herself halfway across the world in Eugene, Oregon, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in 2014.

In 2013, she returned to Gabon for an internship as a safety manager. There, she taught employees how to prevent environmental hazards and assessed worksites for cleanliness and safety. The experience inspired her to pursue graduate school, and she earned master’s degrees in public administration and international studies at the University of Oregon.

During her graduate studies, a mentor introduced her to environmental pollution, which captured her imagination. Soon after, she began focusing on ways to reduce and prevent exposure to contaminants, and once immersed in her studies, she knew even more education on the impacts of air pollution on human health was inevitable. A PhD in environmental and occupational health seemed like the best fit.

Getting started in OSU’s doctoral program in public health

In 2018, Sigride began searching for doctoral programs that aligned with her interests, found OSU’s PhD in public health program and discovered that faculty were working on air quality issues.

“This prompted me to apply, and here I am,” she says.

Since starting the program, Sigride has sharpened the scope of her air pollution research.

She enjoys collaborating with Associate Professor Perry Hystad, who leads the Spatial Health Lab and studies the overlap between epidemiology and environmental exposure assessment. Sigride aims to apply this kind of knowledge to reducing air pollution and building climate resilience — crucial issues affecting the planet.

“My research looks at air pollution awareness, exposure levels and health outcomes in people living in low- and middle-income countries,” she explains. “Coming from a such a country myself, I enjoy working on issues that will benefit people not only in Gabon, but also in other low-income areas. Even in wealthier countries such as the U.S., there are many low-income areas that can benefit from my research.”

Gaining professional development through experiential opportunities

Part of Sigride’s research entails fieldwork. Before and during her time at Oregon State, she worked in Gabon to assess environmental exposure levels and learn more about the local population’s awareness and perceptions of air pollution.

“My fieldwork there has involved both quantitative research through using air sensors to collect air quality data and qualitative research through surveys. I’ve also expanded my research abilities by assisting Dr. Hystad with his global study.”

Sigride has also presented her studies at both regional and global conferences, deepening her professional connections in the public health field.

“I presented at the North American Chapter of the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology in June 2023 and at the Regional Cascadia conference three times in 2019, 2023 and 2024, receiving an award for best poster and two awards for best Ignite Talks,” she says. “This April, I presented at the Air Sensors International Conference in Riverside, California.”

Accruing teaching experience

To help fund her doctoral studies and develop her teaching capabilities, Sigride has taught a variety of classes for both undergraduates and graduate students.

“By holding different GTA positions, I’ve been able to improve my teaching skills,” she says. “So far, I’ve taught subjects including introduction to public health, HIV/AIDS and STIs in modern society, lifetime fitness for health, foundations of environmental health, foundations of epidemiology, occupational health, and integrated approaches to public health.”

Sigride will earn her doctorate in June 2024. She plans to secure a faculty position at a university, where she can continue her research while teaching even more courses — a worthy goal for which she is well prepared.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here. The faculty and the school are very supportive.”