Spenser Anderson '18 MPH'19 has always been fascinated by how the built environment affects health. Studying public health and urban studies at Brown led him to the Hassenfeld Summer Scholars Program, which gave him skills that he continues to use in his work in community development.
As a 2018 Summer Scholar, Anderson worked in the lab of Daphne Koinis-Mitchell, Ph.D., who co-leads the Hassenfeld Institute’s Asthma Initiative. There, Anderson investigated rates of obesity among children with asthma and novel ways to measure physical activity among this population.
“One thing that surprised me is the way new technologies are being integrated into public health. We used devices very similar to Fitbits and Apple watches to track physical activity and avoid the biases of self-reporting,” Anderson said.
Through his research, Anderson became attuned to the various demographics unique to Rhode Island, such as its large Cape Verdean community, and how this affects public health. For his thesis, Anderson examined emergency department visits by children with asthma and how the rates varied across race and ethnicity.
“I definitely kept that in mind during my thesis and thought about how public health in regions of the Northeast is influenced by things like race or the expansion of Medicaid,” Anderson said.
Now, Anderson works in community development for Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) in New York, where he does GIS mapping and impact analyses.
“This company has a strong impact on health outcomes,” Anderson said. “I love it.”
In response to the recent and ongoing COVID-19 crisis, LISC created a national program to financially support small businesses that are struggling to stay open during the pandemic. Anderson and his team work with funders to get grants to the businesses that are in the most need, especially those in rural or nonmetro areas.
LISC is also helping small businesses at the local level, providing funding that allows businesses to pay their employees to stay home rather than having them work, thereby increasing the chances of community spread of COVID-19.
“If you have a small business that is an anchor in the community, you don’t want them to go under. Losing that business can lead to instability in a community, and it spirals,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he feels good about the work he’s doing, which is not only timely, but is also making an impact on the social determinants of health.
“People get into public health to make policy changes and improve people’s lives, and I’m able to accomplish that through community development. The things you learn in public health are applicable in other spaces,” Anderson said.
Outside of work, Anderson, like other New Yorkers, is trying to stay healthy during the pandemic. In his free time, he rides his bike around the city.
“The highlight right now is going on bike rides,” Anderson said. “I’m trying to go on a 100-mile ride by the end of the year.”