It is a terrific professional advantage for students to understand what they will be getting into if they go into public health.

Carl Milofsky

Pennsylvania's natural gas boom has brought a huge influx of drill rig workers to the Marcellus Shale region. With those workers have come increases in rent, nearly tripling the cost of housing in some towns.

"You can't get a hotel room in Williamsport," says Professor of Sociology Carl Milofsky. As a result, says Milofsky, people who were in marginal housing situations have fewer options and homelessness spikes. Add to that an event like the flood of 2011, when thousands of people became homeless overnight, and community resources are overwhelmed.

Part of a health research group made up of colleagues from Bloomsburg University, Geisinger Medical Center and other universities throughout the Marcellus Shale region, Milofsky is looking at the health issues stemming from the drilling boom. Such stressors can cause or exacerbate mental and other health problems, especially if communities do not have the resources to anticipate and address them, he says.

As co-director of the Place Studies Initiative of the Bucknell Environmental Center, Milofsky also collaborates with Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies Ben Marsh, program coordinator Brandn Greene, and undergraduate researchers to conduct social asset audits within local communities. The projects are based on each community's needs and result in information that community organizers can use to make improvements. Past projects have mapped blighted housing in Sunbury and Shamokin – two cities near campus – and assessed health needs in Williamsport. Recently, Milofsky mentored a student in conducting an inventory of social services and nonprofit organizations in for a regional 211 hotline that connects residents in need with social services.

While Milofsky has worked extensively in central Pennsylvania, questions of how big issues play out at the local level are relevant everywhere. He is one of the co-founders of the Bucknell in Northern Ireland program, where he has worked with students to record ethnographies of people from both sides of the conflict there. He has also collaborated with Bucknell economics professor Berhanu Nega on the role of local non-profits in economic development and democratization in Nega's native Ethiopia.

And in another partnership with Geisinger, Milofsky works with the Center for Health Research to place students in his Sociology and Medicine course in internships with Geisinger Medical Center staff.

"We have a tremendous interest among our students in public health," says Milofsky. "It is a terrific professional advantage for students to understand what they will be getting into if they go into public health."

Posted December 2012