Exploring the intersection of identity, place and public health

| Allegra Abramo
Headshot of Nell Thompson.

Photo: Courtesy of Thompson.

DEOHS undergraduate Nell Thompson honored as Husky 100 winner for working with communities to understand their conservation needs

Nell Thompson

BS, Environmental Public Health


Lynnwood, WA

Future plans

Getting a master's of public health.

“The learning opportunities I've had at UW have been really inspiring.”

- Nell Thompson

Nell Thompson was helping develop a survey about Pacific Northwesterners' disaster preparedness when he noticed that a question about gender offered only three choices: "male," "female" and "other."

"As a transgender person in research myself, that doesn't feel sufficient," said Thompson, who was working on the survey as part of a fellowship with the Cascadia Coastal Hazards and Resilience Training, Education and Research (CHARTER) program.

Thanks to Thompson's input, the gender question was made more inclusive. For the past two years, he has contributed analyses of how the trans community has prepared for disasters.

"Trans people don't tend to get a lot of studies done about them ... and that definitely gets felt in the way a lot of research is designed," Thompson said. "It felt really meaningful to know that I was bringing that to wider attention."

Thompson, an environmental public health major in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS), is being honored as part of this year's Husky 100 for his research and community service.

Connecting lived experience and scientific insight

Each year, the UW honors 100 undergraduate and graduate students who make the most of their time at the University, using their classroom skills to have real-world impact.

Nell on a hike
Thompson in the Hoh Rainforest. Photo: Carley Bishop.

Melissa Mark, director of conservation programming for the UW's Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, got to know Thompson as a "gifted, kind and creative individual" when he participated in the two-summer program.

"Nell connects his identity to the way he approaches science, values how each individual's lived experiences gives them access to unique insights and creative connections, and hopes to be a mentor to trans students interested in the sciences," Mark said.

Testing community gardens for contaminants

As a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar, Thompson got his first opportunity to teach and mentor others while interning with community gardens led by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) around Seattle. 

In addition to collecting and preparing soil and plant samples to test for heavy metals and other contaminants, he also taught people of all ages how to take environmental samples.

"That was really cool," he said, "being treated like you have knowledge that you can share with other people."

Lab group on site
Thompson (in orange mask) and fellow students sampling car exhaust for their Chemical Sampling and Analysis class (ENV H 432). Photo: Umikka Chopra.

Finding a sense of place

These and other experiences working side by side with diverse communities across Washington state have given Thompson a sense of place that he never felt as a "military kid" who moved frequently as a child.

"I got a sense of interconnectedness that I've never had," Thompson said. He expects that to be helpful as he moves forward with a career in public health, which often calls for place-based strategies.

Saying 'yes' to new experiences

In addition to his multiple internships in the community, Thompson has been active on campus.

He is on the board of the Mixed Student Union for students with multiple ethnic and racial heritages. He also recently wrote an article for the Microphiles Journal, an undergraduate microbiology journal, on how ecological concepts and methods can be applied to studying and controlling waterborne diseases.

"I've just been saying yes to as many new experiences as possible," Thompson said, "and they tend to work out really well."


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