Alumna thanks Wilton High School teacher for inspiring her passion

In March, Wilton native Sarah Guth committed to the University of California, Berkeley’s Integrative Biology graduate program, and will begin studying socio-ecological and climatic drivers of vector-borne disease in mid-August.
Guth, who graduated from Wilton High School in 2011 and went on to study conservation biology at Middlebury College in Vermont, said her interest in environmental science began in Brett Amero’s AP Environmental Science class at Wilton High School.
“I found his teaching style incredibly engaging. He taught the class concepts through case studies — stories about communities and people that had been directly affected by environmental issues and policy,” said Guth.
“I always looked forward to his class. He [taught] us planetary health, defined as ‘the health of human civilization and the state of natural systems on which it depends.’”
In addition to learning the ecological and biological processes behind environmental change, said Guth, “we were learning about how communities are affected and respond to these changes.”
“This approach — examining the nexus between environmental change and human health — has become the basis of my passion for research,” she said. “His class was truly a pivotal moment in my life.”
After graduating from Middlebury magna cum laude in 2015, Guth did a summer internship studying the migration patterns of painted lady butterflies at Harvard University.
“I absolutely loved the people in the lab, but I had difficulty becoming absorbed in the project,” said Guth.
After realizing that she “needed to conduct research with human application in order to feel connected to [her] work,” Guth said, she ended up revising the life path she had planned.
“I turned down a job studying ant behavior ... and continued to work part-time in the butterfly lab and part-time in a café while I looked for a job,” she said.

Planetary Health Alliance

Within a few months, Guth stumbled upon the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) — a Harvard-based initiative dedicated to supporting the study of the links between global environmental change and human health — for which she has worked as a program coordinator since January 2016.
The mission of PHA, said Guth, is to “support the growth of a rigorous, policy-focused, transdisciplinary field of applied research aimed at understanding and addressing the human health implications of accelerating anthropogenic change in the structure and function of Earth’s natural systems.”
On April 29, PHA hosted the Inaugural Planetary Health/GeoHealth Annual Meeting at Harvard University, which was attended by some of the most renowned scientists, medical field professionals, policy makers, politicians, and social scientists from around the world.
Guth was at the meeting, as well as Wilton High School senior Isabella Jones and Amero, who Guth had invited as a thank-you for inspiring her to pursue a career in environmental science — “and more specifically,” she said, “planetary health.”
The goal of the meeting, Guth said, was to have “a diverse group” leave with “a sense of excitement about the quality and importance of work being done in planetary health, a new cohesiveness as a community dedicated to furthering these issues in collaboration with each other, and a commitment to continuing to grow this rapidly emerging field together.”
“Ultimately, in order to grow a new field, we need to engage the ‘next generation of scholars,’” said Guth.
“This is why it was incredibly exciting to have Isabella at the meeting. It’s really rare for a high school student to attend these conferences.”

Thank-you to Amero

Guth said her family doesn’t have a research or science background and she feels “incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon the field of planetary health.”
“Mr. Amero is an incredible teacher. He’s clearly passionate about the material and engaged us students unlike any other teacher I had in grade school,” she said.
“He is the kind of teacher that we need in high schools to inspire that next generation of scholars in every discipline.”
Throughout the graduate school application process this past year, Guth said, she felt “an overwhelming sense of gratitude” for the various mentors that led her to this point in her life — ”but for me,” she said, “it really all began in Mr. Amero’s class.”
Guth said that’s why it was “so exciting” to have him and Isabella at the Inaugural Planetary Health/GeoHealth Annual Meeting.
“For me, the meeting was a celebration of the beginning of my graduate school career in planetary health research, and I was able to share that moment with the teacher that first introduced me to planetary health,” she said.
“I couldn’t help but compare Isabella ... to myself six years ago. The fact that Mr. Amero went to the trouble to attend a weekend conference and bring a student is a testament to his strength as a teacher.”
Guth will be moving to Berkeley, Calif., in August and Friday, May 12, will be her last day at PHA. Before heading to California, Guth said, her summer plans include a trip to Madagascar and traveling in the United States with friends.