Women in Science: Kesha Forrest — Environmental Science and Policy is in my DNA

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Kesha Forrest

That’s me in the photo, early on in my graduate studies at Howard University, standing in a lab of the Howard University Cancer Center. It was the first time I’d ever attempted to “extract” DNA…and it was cool. I was rocking the sample tubes, watching these unwound chromosomes like thread going through water and thinking “wow, that’s the stuff that makes us so different and so alike.” It was one of those “aha” moments.

Just months before, in search of the graduate program that was right for me, I approached the director of the Howard University microbiology department, who had lots of ideas on how to help me. She suggested I work part-time on an ongoing cancer research project, in a lab at the Howard University Cancer Center. One of my first jobs was to help analyze blood samples for an African-American prostate cancer study. Later, I helped analyze West African blood samples for the National Human Genome Center at Howard that focused on the genetics of diabetes, a disease common to African Americans and West African ancestral populations. It was great to get my head out of the books and into the real world of science.

Fast forwarding several years with my masters degree in genetics behind me, I now have my own job in the real world of science. I work in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, helping to determine if there are contaminants in drinking water that may be harmful to human health. More recently I have been focused on contaminants that could affect our body’s main regulatory system, known as the endocrine system. The endocrine system regulates growth, development and other functions with natural chemicals called hormones. Chemicals in the environment can sometimes “mimic” or act like hormones, which may have negative effects on humans. We work to make sure none of these chemicals are a problem in drinking water.

I love working with fellow scientists that are some of the best in their fields. As I did with my mentors and advisors in graduate school, I take every chance I can to learn from them.

Here at the Agency, we use science to shape policies that protect human health and the environment. One of my career goals is to shape policies that directly consider both genetics and the environment. For now, I’m more than happy to focus on helping to keep America’s drinking water clean and safe.

About the author: Kesha Forrest works in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water and continues to expand her knowledge with classes in public health and environmental policy

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