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sustainable spelman

Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, Ph.D., MPH, C'95

Na'taki Osborne JelksDr. Na’Taki Osborne Jelks is an Assistant Professor in the Environmental and Health Sciences Program at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Jelks investigates urban environmental health disparities; the role that place, race, and social factors play in influencing health; cumulative environmental risks and health; the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations, and the connection between urban watersheds, pollution, the built environment, and health. She also develops, implements, and evaluates community-based initiatives that set conditions to enable low-income and communities of color to empower themselves to reduce exposure to environmental health hazards and improve health and quality of life.

Jelks is particularly interested in approaches that engage environmentally overburdened communities in monitoring local environmental conditions, generating actionable data for community change, and developing effective community-based interventions that revitalize toxic, degraded spaces into healthy places. She is currently co-leading UrbanHeatATL, a research initiative in which Atlanta-based students and community members are mapping urban heat islands in Atlanta with community science. Her research and public health practice are supported by private and public agencies and foundations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and The Rockefeller, Robert Wood Johnson and National Science Foundations.

Dr. Jelks co-founded the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), a community-based environmental justice organization that works to grow a cleaner, greener, healthier, more sustainable West Atlanta through authentic community engagement, organizing, education, community science, and participatory research. Since 2018 she has served on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee that works to integrate environmental justice into the Environmental Protection Agency’s programs, policies and activities as well as to improve the environment or public health in communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harms and risks. Jelks is currently one of two co- chairs of the NEJAC. A nationally recognized leader in engaging urban communities and youth of color in environmental stewardship, Jelks also co-founded the National Wildlife Federation’s Atlanta Earth Tomorrow Program, a youth environmental leadership and environmental justice program, in 2001 and served as the program director from 2005 until 2017.

Jelks studied Chemistry and Civil and Environmental Engineering at Spelman College and the Georgia Institute of Technology respectively before earning a Master of Environmental and Occupational Health degree at Emory University and a Ph.D. in Public Health at Georgia State University.

In 2021, Dr. Jelks was named an Ecological Society of America Excellence in Ecology Scholar and was selected as one of six national winners of Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award for women of color environmental leaders. In 2022, Dr. Jelks was selected as a Harvard University/JBP

Foundation Environmental Health Scholar and awarded an Environmental Justice For the People Award from the National Wildlife Federation in 2023.

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