National Center for Environmental Research

Thirty Years of Undergraduate Support through the Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship Program

By Georgette Boddie

Photograph of GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

GRO Alumni Gregory Crawford

When I came to the Environmental Protection Agency some thirty five years ago, I did not know it would include the wonderful opportunity to impact the lives of so many students. As Program Manager for the Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Fellowship Program, I have worked with hundreds of Fellows to ensure that they have the support they need while in the program. I began in 1997 when it was called the Minority Academic Institutions Undergraduate Student Fellowships, which targeted underrepresented undergraduate students interested in the environmental sciences. We offered an opportunity for promising undergraduates to pursue these related disciplines as undergraduates with less of a financial burden. Fellows could also participate in a 12-week summer internship at an EPA facility, doing real-world science and engineering.

When I think back to my first group of Fellows (11 students), it is amazing to see that the program has grown to fund up to 40 students per year. And it’s even harder to believe that more than 400 students have been supported through the program.

The most rewarding part is knowing that because of GRO, Fellows were able to gain invaluable experience and find their true calling in the environmental field. Many now work in academia, the federal government, the private sector, non-government organizations and state agencies.

Our GRO Forum shares the stories of our alumni as they continue to protect human health and the environment. There are many that stand out in my mind and a few that have kept in touch with me over the years, keeping me posted about their career journey. Here are just a couple:

  • 1995 Fellow Gregory Crawford is easy to remember because he started before I was managing the program. I first reached out to him requesting information to include in the GRO Forum. He responded almost immediately and we have been in contact ever since!
  • Another that comes to mind is Cynthia Williams, a 2007 Fellow. She has been working toward her doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of California-Davis, with hopes of one day working for EPA. She has also given back to the program on numerous occasions, serving as a peer reviewer evaluating program applicants.

Those are just two examples of many memorable students I’ve been fortunate to get to know, but they all have had impacts on the program.

This year marks more than 30 years that EPA has provided support to undergraduate students through GRO. And with the recent announcement of our 2014 cohort of GRO Fellows, 34 more now have the opportunity to focus on their studies in environmental-related disciplines.

When the time comes for me to retire, I know I’ll be pleased to know that I have made a positive difference in the lives of so many students, and have helped to set their path as future environmental pioneers.

About the Author: Georgette Boddie has worked at EPA for 34 years. During that time she has served in numerous capacities, and in more recent years, as program manager for the GRO Undergraduate Fellowships program. Ms. Boddie has managed hundreds of student fellows throughout her professional career. However she has no doubt touched the lives of thousands.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models

By Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr.

image of a computer chip with wires coming offNext week, a number of my EPA colleagues will join toxicologists from across the world in San Diego, CA for the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo.” The gathering will feature more than 160 scientific sessions and 2,400 poster presentations, providing important insights into how the study of chemical toxicity can better protect public health and the environment.

Although this particular conference has been going on for more than half a century, these are exciting times for toxicologists. And I’m proud to say that EPA is helping lead the way.

Our researchers and their partners are ushering in a new generation of chemical testing and screening methods, developing “virtual embryos” and other complex models that use scientific data, computer power, and sophisticated calculations to mimic the potential effects of toxins on actual tissues and organs. With other federal partners, they are using robots to advance fast and efficient high-throughput-screening assays, greatly accelerating the pace of chemical screening while dramatically reducing the use of laboratory animals—and costs.

We are also supporting innovative, world-class research through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program. New STAR grants will be announced at the Society of Toxicology’s Annual Meeting (March 25 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) when we will hold a kickoff meeting of our newly established Organotypic Cell Models for Predictive Toxicology Centers. This research is part of EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program.

The research Centers are being established to develop three-dimensional models, sometimes called “organs-on-a-chip,” which can be used to replicate human biological interactions within tissues and organs. When developed and evaluated, these models known as Organotypic Culture Models (hence the name of the Centers) will help investigate the toxic effects of chemical substances. Such models are established from isolated cells or from tissue fragments, bridging the gap between conventional, single-layered cell cultures and whole-animal systems.

What the Centers learn will be used to develop computational models that can help predict responses and outcomes from chemical exposures, such as human disease and long-term effects on tissue and organ growth. The models they develop will also mimic biological functions such as a metabolic process.

If you are attending the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo” this year, you are welcome to come to the March 25th grantee kick-off meeting.

The impact of all this activity is a new wave of toxicology testing that is faster, more efficient, and far less costly. This will help us at EPA with our number one priority: protecting human health and the environment. That’s some pretty exciting news.

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

Please note: We’ll be sharing more about EPA participation at the annual Society of Toxicology Meeting throughout next week, so please check back to learn more.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Children’s Health: An Investment in Our Future

By Dr. James H. Johnson Jr.

Group of children at school

Children’s health is our best investment.

Although children make up 30 percent of the population, they are 100 percent of our future. As a former college professor, I’ve had the distinct honor of serving as an educator and mentor to many, many young people, and there is no greater personal or professional pleasure than watching that kind of investment grow.

Children's Health MonthToday marks the beginning of Children’s Health Action Week at EPA, and I’m thrilled to kick off a number of blog posts we will be sharing about what is without a doubt one of the greatest investments we make in our nation’s future: children’s environmental health research.

In 1998, EPA, together with our partner at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), established the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Program (Children’s Centers), one of the most successful public health research programs in the world. The program funds multi-disciplinary, community- and university-based research centers that together serve as a network of top experts and practitioners in children’s environmental health.

The Children’s Centers program fosters collaborative research that connects scientists, social scientists, pediatricians, public health professionals and community organizations all focused on a single overarching goal: to improve the health and environments of children. Together, their work has led to groundbreaking research results. Examples include:

The Centers are explicitly designed to match researchers with public health experts and caregivers so that the results of their work quickly and effectively reach those who can put it into practice and protect children wherever they live, learn and play.

For the past 16 years, EPA has invested over $130 million (matched by NIEHS) to fund more than 30 Children’s Centers.

This week, EPA is not only celebrating the great strides we have made in children’s health research, but we are also recommitting ourselves to our overall mission of ensuring safe and healthy lives for all children. The Children’s Centers are providing the research that will help parents and mentors achieve that. It is a rewarding investment.

Please join me in celebrating children’s health week and 16 years of scientific achievement by learning about how EPA and its partners are providing a better world for our children, today.

About the Author: Dr. James H, Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Supporting Innovation for Cleaner Burning Cookstoves and Cleaner Air

By Jim Johnson

The end of May is always one of my favorite times of year. It includes Memorial Day, the official holiday to honor the service of our dedicated military personnel and military veterans, and my birthday.

If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the end of May also coincides with the time of year when the evening air fills with the unmistakable scent of backyard grilling. Barbeque season. Here in this country, that distinctive odor of smoke is associated with tasty food, relaxing, and good times spent with friends and family.

But for most of the world’s population, the smell of an open fire is something completely different. It’s not nostalgic or a welcome diversion from the norm, but a necessity.

Nearly three billion people worldwide rely on burning fuels such as wood, plant matter, coal, and animal waste. And because most of that occurs indoors, it’s a health hazard, too.  The World Health Organization estimates that exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves leads to 4.3 million premature deaths per year.

Cookstove researcher at work

EPA is a leader in conducting and supporting clean cookstove research.

What’s more, it’s not just a local problem. The smoke from traditional cookstoves is a major source of black carbon, an air pollutant linked to a range of impacts associated with our changing climate, including increased temperatures, accelerated ice and snow melt, and changes in the pattern and intensity of precipitation.

And that brings me to another reason why the end of May this particular year is even a bit more special for me than usual: Yesterday, EPA announced almost $9 million in research grants awarded to six universities to help usher in a new generation of clean, efficient cookstoves.

Funded through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, the research will focus on measuring and communicating the benefits of adopting cleaner cooking, heating, and lighting practices. The impact of the work will improve air quality and protect the health of billions of people, as well as slow climate change—a benefit for everyone, and the global environment, too.

The universities and their research are:

  • Colorado State University researchers will provide new cookstoves to rural areas in China, India, Kenya, and Honduras to explore how their adoption will impact and improve emissions, chemistry, and movement of indoor smoke; they will also assess health and climate impacts.
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers will investigate how local resources in rural communities in Alaska, Nepal, Mongolia, and China affect the acceptance of cleaner heating stoves, and take measurements to learn how their use impacts air quality and carbon emissions.
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis researchers will measure changes in air quality and health outcomes from cleaner cooking and heating technologies in China, and model regional weather, air quality, exposure and human health impacts.
  • University of California, Berkeley researchers will explore the relationship between household and village-scale pollution to understand the effectiveness of using cleaner-burning cookstoves.
  • Yale University researchers will use socioeconomic analyses, emissions and pollution measurements, and global climate modeling to investigate the impacts of using next-generation cookstoves in India.
  • University of Colorado, Boulder researchers will use small, inexpensive sensors to monitor indoor air pollution exposure in homes. They will also collect data through health assessments and outdoor air quality measurements in Ghana.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the grants at a reception hosted by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. EPA is a founding member of this public-private partnership, which seeks to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. Our collective goal: 100 million homes adopting clean cooking solutions by 2020. Achieving that will really be something to celebrate!

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s STAR program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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EPA’s 9th Annual P3 Competition: Supporting a Sustainable Future

By Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr.

P3 team displays their project this morning at the 2013 Sustainable Design Expo.

As the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), I come across inspiring projects of great depth and innovation on a daily basis. It’s the best part of my job. Together with my NCER colleagues, we build and support partnerships between EPA’s own top notch researchers and the leading environmental and human health scientists and engineers in the world.

This morning, I got to meet the next wave of young scientists poised to join those ranks.

Today marks the opening of EPA’s s P3 student design competition for sustainability. The competition is designed to support and inspire science and engineering students to work together to develop sustainable solutions to environmental and related human health issues that embrace the three P’s of people, prosperity and the planet.

The competition is a two-phase process. In Phase I, teams were selected to receive grants of up to $15,000 to research and test original sustainability projects. This year 42 teams were selected, and over the next two days will be showcasing their designs to a panel of judges for chance to enter Phase II, which includes up to $90,000 in additional grant money to help bring their products to the marketplace.

The caliber of projects I witnessed is astounding, from recycling LCD monitors to creating a water supply to local communities through fog. And you don’t have to be the Director of NCER or a P3 judge to see the projects. The same demonstrations and displays we enjoy are free and open to the public, part of the National Sustainable Design Expo.

Past P3 teams have excelled, engaging local and international communities, and bringing sustainable solutions to pressing environmental and related human health challenges throughout our country and the world. A number of teams have leveraged their winning ideas into nonprofit organizations and small businesses, sparking job growth as they advance sustainability.

EPA’s 9th annual National Sustainable Design Expo is located on the National Mall in Washington DC between 13th and 14th streets, right across the street from the Washington Monument. Displays will continue until 6:00pm Thursday (today), and continue between 9:00am to 6:00pm Friday (April 19).

If you are in the area, I urge you to stop by and see the great work on display. You’ll see why it’s the best part of my job.

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr. joined EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research in 2012 as the Director. In his free time, Dr. Johnson enjoys golfing and learning Tai Chi.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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