Student Spotlight: Candis M. Hunter

Candis M. Hunter is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. In addition to her school duties, she also serves as an environmental health scientist at the CDC National Center for Environmental Health and as an environmental health officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Her research interests are at the intersection of environmental justice, food security, evaluation and community engaged research.

As a backyard gardener and community garden volunteer, Hunter has personally experienced the health, social, economic and cultural benefits of growing food locally. Her grandparents and great-grandparents owned farms and gardens in Louisiana where they cultivated a variety of crops and livestock. Hunter’s family history, life experiences, and involvement in environmental justice-related research and programs such as the Navajo Birth Cohort Study; 2016 Flint, Michigan, Lead and Legionella Investigations; EPA EJ Community Leaders Academy; and HERCULES Exposome Research Center Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC), further solidified her research interests. These activities emphasized the importance of local community engagement in decision-making, advocacy and different types of research methods.

HERCULES COEC leads and SAB members at the at NIEHS Environmental Science Fest. Front row: Michelle Kegler, Melanie Pearson, Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, Candis M. Hunter. Back row: Lynne Young and Erin Lebow-Skelley)

Hunter was introduced to mixed-methods (qualitative and quantitative) research during a research rotation with the HERCULES Exposome Research Center COEC by her dissertation research advisor, Dr. Michelle Kegler, and dissertation committee member, Dr. Melanie Pearson. Drs. Kegler and Pearson serve as leads of the HERCULES COEC.

During the research rotation, Hunter conducted an evaluation survey and focus groups of HERCULES Stakeholder Advisory Board (SAB) members to identify strengths, areas for improvement, and priorities of the partnership between the HERCULES Exposome Research Center and the SAB. Because of her involvement with the HERCULES Exposome SAB Evaluation and other experiences related to environmental health disparities, it was important to Hunter that her dissertation research involved an Atlanta focus to aid local food and environmental health policies. Prior to finalizing her dissertation research aims, she met with local food leaders from Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture, Metro Atlanta Urban Farm, Atlanta Community Food Bank (Community Garden Program), UGA Extension Service, Emory Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Foodwell Alliance and other groups to discuss the feasibility and interest of dissertation research regarding community garden soil quality.

Hunter’s dissertation research involves the investigation of behaviors to mitigate potential heavy metal soil contaminant exposures among community gardeners. She conducted focus groups of Atlanta community garden leaders in the Atlanta metropolitan area and optional nutrient and heavy metal soil testing of their community gardens. Based on the focus group data, she developed and administered a survey at the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) Conference. The survey examines safe gardening practices—such as conducting a garden site history, heavy metal soil testing, hand-washing, and composting—that may reduce exposures to harmful chemicals in community garden soils. Hunter hopes that her interdisciplinary mixed-methods research approach will provide important data to help local growers, consumers, policy makers and other stakeholders.

Candis Hunter

Hunter pictured at the SoilSHOP booth at the 2017 Foodwell Alliance Healthy Soil, Healthy Food Festival

Beyond her dissertation research, Hunter is involved in several leadership training and volunteer activities. She is a graduate of the Institute of Georgia Environmental Leadership Class of 2013, NIH National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities Translational Health Disparities Scholar Class of 2015, and LEAD Atlanta Class of 2017. She volunteers with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry soilSHOP program, a health education and outreach program that provides free soil lead screenings and information to protect vulnerable populations from lead exposure. Hunter also volunteers with the Spelman College Sister2Sister Mentoring Program, Atlanta Commissioned Officers Association, Emory C-CHEM2 Stakeholder Advisory Board, Emory Sustainable Food Committee, and with her church’s Atlanta Habitat for Humanity Interfaith builds. She was recently recognized as an Emory Alumni Association 40 Under 40 leader, as a winner of the Emory Piedmont TATTO Graduate Student Fellowship, and a recipient of the Atlanta Chapter of Young Government Leaders 2017 YoungGov40 Award.

Hunter plans to continue to pursue her passion for environmental justice through teaching and interdisciplinary work involving environmental health, public health emergency response/preparedness, policy analysis, evaluation and community engaged research. She is particularly interested in mentoring and outreach to increase the number of students of color that enter environmental health and STEM professions.

Candis M. Hunter with participants and board members at the American Community Gardening Association Conference in Hartford, Conn.