Alum Named 2023 Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow.

Headshot of Barbara Espinosa Barrera standing against a railing overlooking a river at sunset

Barbara Espinosa Barrera

Pulitzer Center

Alum Named 2023 Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow

Recent MPH alum and former Public Health Post Fellow Barbara Espinosa Barrera will return to the region of Ecuador where she grew up to report on local efforts to mitigate the effects of future volcanic eruptions.

September 15, 2023
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Barbara Espinosa Barrera, a recent master of public health alum and former Public Health Post fellow has been named a 2023 Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow.

The Pulitzer Fellowship program is part of a long-standing collaboration between the School of Public Health, the Boston University College of Communication, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting through BU’s Program for Global Health Storytelling. Pulitzer fellows explore the intersection of journalism and public health while developing a multimedia project on an underreported health crisis. This year, Espinosa Barrera was selected along with COM student Mandile Mpofu, who will be reporting on efforts to combat climate change in Namibia.

At SPH, Espinosa Barrera (SPH’23) studied environmental health and wrote articles on topics such as the benefits of urban agriculture and dangers of fracking for Public Health Post (PHP), SPH’s daily population health magazine. Now as an alum, she works to address air pollution as an environmental justice and health equity organizer for the greater-Boston nonprofit GreenRoots. She will use the Pulitzer Fellowship opportunity to apply her skills and expertise to a new challenge this winter: returning to the region of Ecuador where she grew up to report on local efforts to mitigate the effects of future volcanic eruptions.

“I went to school in Latacunga, one of the towns that is being threatened by the active volcano Cotopaxi. It’s very historical. It’s very beautiful. It has small town vibes—everybody knows each other,” says Espinosa Barrera, who was forced to flee the farm where she spent her childhood and move with her parents to Ecuador’s capital city of Quito when, after lying dormant for over a hundred years, Cotopaxi erupted in 2015.

The main danger, Espinosa Barrera says, is when volcanic activity melts sections of the massive glaciers capping Cotopaxi’s summit, creating rivers of mud and debris called lahars. These massive mudflows gather destructive momentum as they rush down the volcano’s steep slopes towards the thousands of people living in the valleys below. Local leaders aim to develop infrastructure to protect Latacunga and other down-stream communities, she says, but although activists have implored the Ecuadorian government, including the president, for assistance, so far there has been little acknowledgement of their plight.

“I think [the activists’] efforts are remarkable, and I want to bring them to a bigger audience,” says Espinosa Barrera, who plans to cover the story in both English and Spanish so that she can pitch the piece to a major Ecuadorian news outlet in addition to publishing to the Pulitzer Center website. “I hope that by telling the story, people internationally and nationally are going to be more supportive of this effort.”

While nervous to be writing about such an important and deeply personal issue, Espinosa Barrera says she feels well-prepared from her time at PHP. “I had all these amazing experiences at PHP. I felt like my writing had never been better and that if I was going to apply to a fellowship like this one, it would be [now].”

Espinosa Barrera developed a passion for translating science into something anyone can understand, she says—and not only through writing, but also through short-form videos, like the reels she learned to create for PHP’s social media accounts. Impressed by their power, she would love to create a reel to accompany her Pulitzer story, she says.

“That is my hometown, those are my friends, that is my family,” says Espinosa Barrera of the Cotopaxi region. “I am just really thrilled at the opportunity.”

Applications for the 2024-2025 Public Health Post Fellowship program are open now, and interested on-campus MPH students are encouraged to apply by October 6. To learn more, consider attending an informational session with the PHP editorial team from 5-6 pm on September 20 or September 27.

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Alum Named 2023 Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow

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