From Commonweal President Michael Lerner

On April 1, Elise Miller, director of the Collaborative for Health and the Environment (CHE) stepped down, and we welcomed Karen Wang as CHE’s new director. Elise was present at the conception of CHE. We worked together on environmental health and justice issues for 24 years—first when Elise became the founding executive director of the Jenifer Altman Foundation, then when she became a co-founder of CHE, and finally during the fruitful years when Elise took over leadership of CHE. She advanced CHE far beyond where our global community was when she became director.

Elise has stepped down with a deep inner sense that there are new paths of service that she feels called to pursue. We aren’t saying goodbye to Elise—she will be part of the Commonweal community for as long we are all on this earth. And we are deeply delighted to welcome Karen Wang who will guide CHE in our next phase of work.

wangFrom Karen Wang, Director, CHE

When I first spoke to Michael about the opportunity to direct CHE, Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University immediately jumped to my mind. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” CHE connects dots from my past in ways that I could not have predicted or planned. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to integrate my experiences in international development, academic interest in health care, and personal interest in health and well-being.

As a student at Stanford (B.A. ’04 M.Sc. ’05), I studied the ways in which poverty, the world food economy, and the environment are interwoven. This led to a job leading monitoring and evaluation with the U.N. Millennium Villages Project in ten countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. During my time there, I developed an interest in how organizations succeed and returned to the West Coast to complete a Ph.D. in Strategic Management at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. My research focused on physician-hospital relationships in the U.S. healthcare system. Simultaneously, my own health challenges and the birth of my daughter led me to explore functional medicine and the impact of environmental hazards on health.

Within the environmental health movement and CHE specifically, I feel lucky to have found meaningful work that not only connects the dots of my past but also opens up countless possibilities. As a data and statistics expert, I immediately felt at home with CHE’s focus on evidence-based science. As someone who values deep understanding of the complexity and nuances of all issues, I welcome the diversity of the CHE community and respect the systems model of health. And I continue to be impressed by the knowledge and resources CHE has amassed and CHE’s history of accomplishments.

I am excited to build on the work CHE has done in the environmental health community and educate a broader audience about the numerous connections between the environment and our bodies. With public health and environmental protections being eroded, it is more important than ever that CHE creates a new coalition of voices for evidence-based science. To meet the challenge, CHE is planning on launching new programs and campaigns to bring Millennials and youth into the environmental health conversation. We are going to expand our use of social media and other digital technologies to reach a younger audience. We will continue our efforts to be a premier resource for the latest environmental health science by modernizing our communication platforms. And we will refocus our efforts on connecting scientists and researchers in environmental health with these new audiences.

Through education, CHE’s goal is to empower people to take action on multiple levels. We hope people will make changes in their personal lives to reduce toxic exposures. At the same time, we want to equip people to demand change from policy makers at local, state, and national levels.

We are still working on the details of the programmatic changes. If you have any suggestions or ideas, I would love to hear from you. Please reach out to me directly at


Find out more about CHE on our website.