Career advice from Nefertiti

By: Kelly Siegel

In classes we are always hearing about Superfund sites, but we never touch on them with too much detail.  Lucky for me, I am interning at the EPA so I decided to sit down with, Nefertiti DiCosmo, to learn more about what goes on in the Superfund Division. 

What is your position at the EPA?

I am a remedial project manager in the Superfund Division.  We investigate and clean up hazardous waste sites in EPA Region 5. 

What is a typical day like for you?

The great thing about this job is that you are never bored – you get to learn about new things all the time, so every day is different.  My job is to move Superfund sites through the remedial process.  This requires coordination and constant communication.   Since there are many interested parties when it comes to cleanup work, I am communicating with most of them on a weekly basis.  In addition, I review technical work and reports and give comments.  I sometimes go out to the site to oversee sampling or cleanup activities.  I do a lot of writing and planning.  Some of the documents I write are decision documents, five-year reviews, clean up and sampling schedules and reports, work assignments for contractors, etc. 

What is the best part of your job?

Getting things done!  I feel a sense of accomplishment when I have completed an investigation at a site or when I have written a decision document to clean it up.  I feel progress has been made and I can go to the community and show them what the EPA has done and plans to do.  It is a good feeling that motivates me to continue working on other cleanups.

Did you always have an interest in the environment?

I always knew it was important to protect the environment.  However, I was more interested in how human health was impacted by the environment.  We depend so much on our natural resources but, as a human race, we mistreat those resources and then are surprised when our health is negatively impacted.  I like to look at the relationships people have with the environment.

What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?

Biology and chemistry classes, of course.  But, I often use my philosophy and humanities social sciences course.  One of the keys to getting things done is getting along with people who work on the project.  In addition, I am very proactive on taking advantage of training programs and classes available at EPA.  School is always important, regardless of the subject matter.  It is important to learn how to learn!

Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?

Be the change!  Lead by example!  It is more effective to focus on how you embody the change you wish to see, than for you to tell a million people how important it is that they do the same thing.  If you want to protect the environment, do some research about what the issues are, choose a change you could make, and then practice that behavior as often as you can.  Then, when you are ready, choose another one!

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends.

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