Published: June 9, 2021 By

During this past spring semester, ten MENV students (including myself) served as graduate consultants to the City and County of Boulder, working to analyze and address the intersection of indoor air quality (IAQ) issues in socially vulnerable populations. With extraordinary guidance from William Shutkin, MENV Clinic Lead and Urban Resilience and Sustainability Faculty Specialization Lead, Susie Strife, Boulder County’s Director of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience, Jonathan Koehn, City of Boulder’s Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer, and Collin Tomb, Boulder County’s Climate/Health Strategist, the team spent an accelerated three months conducting research and interviews in order to produce two reports outlining recommendations for the City and County of Boulder to implement.

URS presentation screenshotTo cover as much ground as possible in the short three months we had, the team of ten broke up into two groups of five: the “Codes Team" who researched the policies and codes that affect indoor air quality issues and the “Education Team" who researched best practices for education and outreach that a municipality could implement for IAQ, particularly in socially vulnerable areas. Both teams did a deep dive into research both online and via interviews conducted with relevant stakeholders in Boulder and beyond. Utilizing the snowball interviewing method — where you ask interviewees if they can provide contacts to other potentially helpful contacts — the teams were able to hear from a diverse group of experts and community members.

Near the end of the project, he Education team hosted an event with the Boulder LatinX community — thanks to the wonderful partnership with Marina LaGrave, the CEO/Founder of Colorado Language Access and Communications Experts (CLACE) — where we gained direct input and recommendations from the community on best ways to collaborate and move forward better and stronger. Participating community members were both compensated for their time and were invited to our final presentation, where they could see how their recommendations were added and interwoven into our final deliverables. 

As an addition to the two reports and presentation, we produced a GIS story map titled It’s a Bad Air Quality Day! What Do I Do?, aimed at increasing user-friendly outreach and education around IAQ information. The story map was created as a result of experts voicing a gap they observed — a lack of adequate communication and education methods to reach community members. To address this gap, two team members with ample GIS knowledge — Caroline Hamlin and Callie Rhodin — spearheaded the story map project. With a goal of being accessible to anyone with any level of IAQ knowledge, the story map includes topics such as what IAQ is, who is at risk if there is bad IAQ, maps of where potentially socially vulnerable populations for IAQ live in Boulder, a video from someone from the Boulder County Health Department sharing what to do during a bad air quality day, and also ways in which people can get involved with remedying IAQ issues.

At the conclusion of the course, the MENV students reflected on some key takeaways learned from the course. “Our ability [as a class] to work together and pull [the project] off in such a short amount of time made me thankful for the collaboration and passion within ourselves but also the sustainability professional world as well,” said one student. Another student said a key insight for them was seeing how passionate all the stakeholders we talked and worked with were about advancing IAQ work for socially vulnerable populations, and how eager they were to help us with our project. Another student’s main takeaway was the phenomenal experience to create materials and recommendations to a municipality that will have real world applications, as the City and County of Boulder will continue to build upon this work.

Finally, one of the biggest highlights and takeaways from this clinic course was the hands-on, real world experience provided to the students by working with the City and County of Boulder on a desired project. Susie Strife commented on the course after its conclusion, saying, "Working with the MENV students has been an incredible experience. The students went above and beyond Jonathan and my expectations for what could be accomplished in a three-month project. They were bright, professional, and determined when it came to producing high-quality, consultant-level work for the City and County. I am proud of what each of the students brought to this process, what they accomplished together, and what we all learned along the way."

The class would like to extend our sincerest appreciation and thanks to William Shutkin, Susie Strife, Jonathan Koehn, Collin Tomb, Marina LaGrave, Boulder’s LatinX community, and all the wonderful experts and individuals who we interviewed and who guided our final reports. With this large conjoined effort, the City and County of Boulder is now many steps closer to achieving IAQ equity within socially vulnerable populations in our community.