Thomas Crisman’s public health impact on foreign policy

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Dr. Thomas Crisman’s public health passion has led him overseas to practice his expertise in freshwater ecology in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. It also recently gained him an appointment in the U.S. Department of State and USAID’s Jefferson Science Fellowship Program.

Crisman, a joint professor in the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Integrative Biology, was one of 13 fellows chosen nationally to offer their insight on bridging science and U.S. policy.

The fellowship is open to any U.S. citizen faculty from institutions of higher learning. Fellows spend one year on assignment with the U.S. Department of State or USAID as science advisors on foreign policy issues, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Tom Crisman

Tom Crisman (first row, far right) with John Kerry, 68th Secretary of the State (second row, fourth from right).

Working in the Office of Conservation and Water, Crisman led an expert group working to help with revisions of the environmental safeguards that the World Bank applies to all loans. He was also responsible for reviewing environmental assessment for large dams globally prior to World Bank funding approval.

“I would the give the State Department’s view before sending it to the Treasury for submittal to the World Bank,” Crisman said.

He said he also implemented a new program bridging together religion and water, which takes into account social values associated with water management.

“To reach local populations, you have to consider their social values; consider how religion fits into their daily life,” he said. “Islam is very clear about how to manage water, Christianity is not so much.”

He started his efforts on the Balkans and will continue on to Albania, Macedonia and Croatia.

“People are part of ecology and that’s a very important concept, and if you don’t include people and their needs in water management and environmental management, you’re going to fail,” he said.

Crisman’s fellowship began August 2014 and concluded August 2015; however, he is still continuing his work with the U.S. Department of the State as a Jefferson Science Fellow.

He said a highlight of his time as a fellow was connecting the role of people with environmental issues, a piece Crisman said is often missing in foreign policy.

“Most policy is less based on science than one would image, and that’s why you have to figure out ways to convince Congress,” he said. “To sell them on the policy in a way that has a direct connection with their voters; that is health and economics.”

Crisman joined the COPH in 2006 and formed a connection with Dr. Thomas Mason, professor in EOH, to establish the International Conference on Water and Security, in collaboration with Central Command.

Crisman said he uses his experiences from the fellowship as a way to provide real-world examples to his students.

“It could be anything from ISIS, to problems of water in Central Africa, I try to really get back to my students how the world will affect them and how the U.S. government works to meet those challenges, he said.

Crisman has also served for the past 20 years on the board of United States – Israel Binational Science Foundation as one of five Americans responsible for overseeing the distribution of U.S.-Israeli funding for cooperative science between the two nations.

And, he served as a consultant for numerous U.S. embassies around the world on water management issues.

“What I came away with from this current experience in D.C. is the wealth of contacts and contexts that are in Washington and that you can begin to put together teams to address things,” he said. “I want to help start programs here [at USF] that have that international integration of sciences and health and get more of our students going to D.C. both as interns and permanently.”


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health.






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