Skip Navigation

Sommer Scholars

Kristen Patterson

Master of Public Health Student

A Midwesterner with a penchant for mountain climbing, Kristen Patterson says her passion for public health gained a foothold in the 1990s when she was a Peace Corps volunteer working in Niger. There, she encountered villagers who wanted to farm more successfully and plant more trees, and who wanted greater access to family planning and health services. So she collaborated with village leaders to address both health and environmental needs. After earning a graduate degree in conservation biology and sustainable development, she joined a USAID health project in Madagascar promoting maternal and child health, economic development and sustainable natural resource management. In rural areas around national parks, Patterson worked to link conservation and public health interventions by demonstrating, for instance, how protecting forests that contained springs would ensure people’s access to potable water. Later, during a tenure with The Nature Conservancy, she helped establish a project called Tuungane (meaning “Let’s Unite”) at Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. It addresses the needs of an escalating population struggling with poverty and poor health as climate change reduces the fish stocks it depends on for protein. Tuungane’s key: integrating access to health and family planning services with improved fishery and forest management. 4: Number of states—California, Nevada, Utah and Maine—whose highest mountains Patterson has climbed