Jennifer Bright ’13: Melding law and policy to improve public health

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Jennifer Bright attributes her interest in urban public health to growing up in New York City. As a competitive tennis player and a member of her high school softball team, she got to know the public courts and playing fields of the city, and enjoyed jogging around the Central Park reservoir. But she was also familiar with the downsides of city life: air pollution, noise, and over-crowding among them.

“New York taught me empirically what I later learned academically,” she says — namely that the health of urban populations depends on the “general well being and livability of cities.”

Dedicated early on to “building policy solutions” to help make cities healthier, Bright attained a liberal arts foundation during her freshman year in Directed Studies, an interdisciplinary program in Western civilization, and went on to major in ethics, politics, and economics.

Throughout her four years at Yale, and the summers between them, she continued to build her résumé for a future in urban policy: She served as president of the Yale Urban Collective, an extracurricular organization for undergraduates interested in urban studies, and is currently the editor-in-chief of the Yale Undergraduate Law Review.

In the summer of 2010 she worked in the Mayor’s Office of Capital Project Development looking at ways to improve recent additions to New York’s inventory of public spaces, like Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line promenade. In 2011, while working on an initiative to make the city more amenable to a growing population of older adults, she made recommendations to local businesses — to introduce large-print menus and better lit tables, for example — and between her junior and senior year, with the support of an Arthur Liman Public Interest fellowship, she studied physical education in the public schools for New York Lawyers for Public Interest. “I was able to explore the intersection of policy and law as it relates to public health,” she says of the experience.

Her senior essay is on the effectiveness of posting calorie counts in New York City restaurants.

Bright intends to go to law school after earning a Master of Public Policy degree at Oxford’s Blavatnik School. Echoing the dictum of Cecil Rhodes to “fight the world’s fight,” Bright says she hopes to contribute to society through public health policy, adding: “Receiving the award is a tremendous honor, but it is truly what I make of this opportunity that will be meaningful in the long run. I hope that this is only the beginning.”

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