Future of Public Health: Allison Larr, MPH, Mailman School of Public Health

Jul 3, 2014, 1:44 PM


Allison Larr, 25, graduated from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health a few weeks ago as a member of the 2014 Master’s in Public Health class and will soon start working at Citigroup in New York City as an analyst in the bank’s public finance division, which finances infrastructure projects.

“Infrastructure is central to maintaining a healthy population,” according to Larr. “If you don’t have a sewer system, public transportation and roads, you won’t have a healthy population.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Larr about the path she took to her new career.

NewPublicHealth: How did you end up at Citigroup?

Allison Larr: As an undergraduate I studied neuroscience, and I was considering pursuing a career in academia or medicine. After my college graduation, I worked for a psychiatric research organization where I realized that I didn’t want to perform the traditional academic roles of creating and distributing knowledge or devote my life to being a physician, but I still wanted to work in a field related to health. By that time, I had developed quite an interest in the environment and in climate change, and so I thought why not connect these two by studying environmental health sciences and figuring out some sort of way that I could work in that field on large-scale problems related to health from upstream processes.

When I started my Master’s in Public Health at Mailman, I didn’t really have a clear vision of exactly what I wanted to do after graduation. I did know that I wanted to work on some bigger-picture environmental issues related to health, so I chose environmental health policy. I worked on a funding opportunity for electric vehicle infrastructure, and that was really the first time that I considered anything related to finance as related to health, because electric vehicle infrastructure would certainly increase electric vehicle uptake, which would have a positive impact on public health through reduced emissions. And in order to make that happen, you need to be able to pay for it.

That’s when the seed was planted that finance could be health related. Following that I worked at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in the energy office, and when we were evaluating potential projects, part of my role was to evaluate how much greenhouse gas savings the projects would produce, as well as the payback period—investigating really whether it was a worthwhile investment from a financial point of view. 

After that I did a little bit of research and talked to some people in the field of public finance, and I realized that it would really enable me to marry my interest in public health, and by this time, my interest in infrastructure, and at Citigroup, I’ll hopefully be working on infrastructure deals.

NPH: What will you bring to Citigroup from your training at Mailman?

Larr: I think the most relevant classes I’ve had are data analysis, environmental health and economics. And, I also think that with my MPH degree what I’ll bring to Citigroup is really a different perspective. A lot of people don’t think “health” when they think of banking, but I do. I certainly look at everything from how it will affect public health, and I think it will be helpful for the firm to have someone with that kind of experience and background as we look at the impact of funding on improving community health.

NPH: Where do you hope your career will take you in the next five years?

Larr: I do see myself at Citi for the foreseeable future just because it’s a really great place to really make a difference, and I think the greatest public health issue facing us right now is climate change. So, I’d like to work on climate change from pretty much every way that you can approach it. You have climate mitigation, which would be reducing emissions—so that will decrease the effects of climate change over time. And then you have adaptation, which would be more of the traditional role that cities have been playing—maybe building a seawall a little bit higher or putting jetties on the Jersey Shore because the waves are coming up higher. Cities, I’m sure, are going to be investing in mitigating climate change over the coming decades, and it’s going to be the public finance banker’s job to make sure cities are able to pay for those appropriately. So I think that it’s an exciting field to be in right now and I really see myself here for quite a while.

And I think that plan has really been shaped by my time at Mailman, which is based in New York City, and because I took a number of climate change-related classes, and then spending time in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, where climate resiliency is a huge concern to the entire department.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.