Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month:Pankaj Arora

By Pankaj Arora, Region 9 Scientist, Indian-American

I grew up among about 1.3 billion people in India. My parents were refugees, coming to India in 1947 when it separated from Pakistan. They were passionate about higher education. Money could be lost (they lost theirs as refugees) but education is yours to keep, and it opens the door to success. They instilled that passion in me.

About 22 years ago, with Master’s degrees in Organic Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering, I came to the U.S. with $600 and a suitcase full of books and clothes. I began studying for a third Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Why? Because the need to drink clean water, live on clean land, and breathe clean air are necessities, yet billions of people lack access to them. I experienced this growing up in India. Environmental Engineering offered a way to follow my heart.

After getting that degree in 1991, I worked as an environmental consultant, then delved into high-tech manufacturing at IBM. Ten years after arriving in the U.S., I was a senior manager at Sun Microsystems. In 2002, I became a U.S. citizen. Did I have it all? That was the first of my mid-life crises. I had drifted away from my passion to improve environmental conditions.  But citizenship opened another door: I could now work for the federal government. I joined EPA in 2003 and have stayed here ever since.

Why? One reason was a phone call in 2008, from someone who wanted to give me an Easter blessing for making life better in a local community. Another was the chance to work at the federal Command Post in Alabama during the BP Oil Spill. Others include opportunities to work on climate change, and to talk about EPA’s work with high school students. At my own expense, I attended the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali and an International Atomic Energy Agency symposium.

Now, I’m going back to school to earn another degree, this time focusing on water, climate change, and sustainable development. Maybe after this the universities will stop me from enrolling. . . . Just kidding!

I’ll return to EPA with new skills and a British accent added to my Indian-American accent. I hope to continue being the change we want to see, a proud U.S. citizen, admiring my Indian heritage as a global citizen.

About the author: Pankaj Arora is an environmental scientist with the Climate Change Office in EPA Pacific Southwest Region (Region 9). Pankaj is a first generation Indian American.

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