Member Spotlight: Professor Daniel B. Oerther

Date posted: 
Thursday, June 17, 2021 - 17:30
Blog poster: 
Jonna Ashley
Email of Blog Poster: 

Professor Daniel B. Oerther joined the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2010 as the John A. and Susan Mathes Endowed Chair of Environmental Health Engineering. He is a member of NEHA, a Certified Environmental Health Specialist and a member of the Missouri Board of Certification for Environmental Health Specialists, a Diplomate of the American Academy of Sanitarians, the Deputy Chair of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) in the United Kingdom, and the President-elect of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists. In this, his member spotlight, we look at how Professor Oerther has fought alongside historically underrepresented, marginalized, or excluded populations resulting in significant achievements for more culturally diverse and inclusive environments.

Professor Oerther has co-led successful efforts to eliminate food deserts, including in predominantly Black neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he has worked overseas, including in Guatemala to improve access to safe and nutritious food for the non-Spanish speaking, indigenous peoples of the Western Highlands, who have experienced decades of systematic abuses. Professor Oerther emphasizes inclusivity for mothers and young children, who historically often were ignored in development efforts in environmental health.

In 2009, Professor Oerther was appointed co-chair of the city’s Food Access Task Force by the Honorable Mark Mallory, the first directly-elected Black Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio. Mallory’s instruction was to, “address the disparity that exists between lower-income communities and higher-income communities regarding access to quality and healthy food supplies.” In particular, the Task Force utilized a community-based participatory research approach (CBPR) to successfully achieve diversity and inclusion and foster a long-term partnership of co-creation among stakeholders in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Professor Oerther’s efforts contributed directly to Cincinnati’s Grocery Attraction Pilot Program to address the lack of access to a full-service grocery for tens of thousands of economically disadvantaged residents of Cincinnati, and in 2020 Professor Oerther’s action-oriented research fostering the awareness of diversity to solve inequality was recognized with the Constellation Prize for Food Security for combating food deserts in Cincinnati, Ohio.

As a leader both within and beyond the field of Environmental Health, Professor Oerther collaborates with and co-educates like-minded professionals who share a common interest in achieving more culturally diverse and inclusive environments; including his efforts to partner with faculty and students of allied professionals such as sanitarians, environmental engineers and community health nurses. For example, the 40,000-individual member and 1,200-institutional member National League for Nursing – the premier organization for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education – recognized Professor Oerther with the 2019 Lillian Wald Humanitarian Award for co-creation of a nursing-inspired program of care and interventions that impact cost, improve healthcare quality, and enhance consumer satisfaction among mothers and their children during the first 1,000-days of life and up to five years old in communities where malnutrition is prevalent.

Beyond his work in the United States, Professor Oerther practices with and advocates for the non-Spanish speaking, historically marginalized indigenous tribes of the Western Highlands of Guatemala to secure access to sanitation and clean drinking water supporting maternal breastfeeding of infants and toddlers as well as identifying sources of and reducing exposure to aflatoxin in corn supplies. As described in Professor Oerther’s article appearing in the July/August 2019 issue of NEHA’s Journal of Environmental Health – “Acute to Chronic Malnutrition: How Significant Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Factors Change with Health Outcomes and Geographies in the Western Highlands of Guatemala” – his practice aims to reduce severe childhood stunting, which contributes to a poverty trap impacting nearly 70% of indigenous children under five years of age in the states of Totonicapan, Quiche, and Huehuetenango. In 2018, the 8,000-member Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) recognized Professor Oerther’s “…decade of outstanding professional practice improving environmental health conditions among 210,000 non-Spanish speaking indigenous people…,” with the Best Innovative Environmental Health Solution Award in the annual CIEH Excellence Awards competition.

Professor Oerther’s commitment to promoting environmental stewardship in diverse communities, local to global in the United States and around the world, is an example to all those who work in the profession. Whether over a career spent in Environmental Health like Professor Oerther, or just starting in their first job, all EH professionals contribute to making our communities healthier and safer. Particularly around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), this work goes unseen. In this special limited series of member spotlight stories, we will attempt to shine a light on the work of EH professionals supporting DEI efforts in both large and small ways. Thank you to Professor Oerther for helping us kick off this series. We are proud to count you as a member!

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect the policy, endorsement, or action of NEHA or the organization where the author is employed. NEHA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.  

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