Women in Science

Celebrating Women as Storytellers and Science Popularizers: Women’s History Month at EPA

By Abbey States

Profiles of Women Employees at EPA

Profiles of Women Employees at EPA

March is Women’s History Month and while it’s been more than a century since the first International Women’s Day in 1911, for those in scientific career fields it can also be an annual reminder that women in science are by and large still underrepresented and underpaid. Now that it seems progress has stalled on closing this gender gap, it’s more important than ever to seek inspiration from the women that have been leaders of change in science and legislation in America for decades.

Women have played a critical role in the environmental movement since long before the EPA existed.  Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” galvanized the public in favor of environmental conservation, spurring the federal government to take action on pesticide regulation and water quality in the 1960s. Hazel Johnson’s crusade against urban pollution led to the passing of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 in 1994; she was also one of the first champions of sustainable community development. Of particular significance in the region is Lois Gibbs, a housewife from upstate New York whose activism against the hazardous waste polluting her Love Canal community inspired the creation of the EPA’s Superfund program, used to locate and remediate toxic waste sites throughout the country.

In planning for this year’s Women’s History Month, I was struck by the power of these women not only as environmental activists, but also as storytellers. Their leadership and communication skills are why they are remembered because they were the vehicles for the important environmental issues they worked to advance.  In this vein, our events focus on women storytellers and science popularizers that are making waves today.

The book club of the Women in Science and Engineering Council, started last year in  our region, selects  recently published science books written by women, many of whom are journalists first and science enthusiasts second. “ Full Body Burden” by Kristen Iversen, “Gulp” by Mary Roach, and “Breasts” by Florence Williams are a few great titles that combine personal anecdotes with scientific literature and a bit of history to create compelling reads that also succeed in conveying important information.

This month we also hosted a viewing of the three-part PBS documentary series Makers: Women Who Make America.  This film, produced by women, celebrates the last century’s social revolution through the stories of some of the key figures in the women’s rights movement, as well as those it impacted.

Income parity for scientific careers across gender lines will improve when more women are inspired to enter and stay in these jobs, changing the culture from within.  It is more important than ever to recognize those that inspire us to do so through their storytelling and popularization of important issues in science.

For more inspiration, check out these profiles of featured women EPA employees and the Department of Labor’s Women’s History Month book selections.

About the Author: Abbey States has been a Physical Scientist with the Superfund Program Support Branch since 2010 and is the current Women in Science and Engineering Special Emphasis Program Manager for EPA Region 2. She studied chemistry at Tufts University and has a graduate degree from the University of Auckland. Prior to joining the EPA, Abbey worked as a field sampler on Superfund sites, a laboratory analyst, and a chimney stack tester.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women’s History Month: Honoring Achievements in Science

By Maggie Sauerhage

Ecologist Rachel Carson helped shape how people see the natural world.

An ecologist who changed how an entire country looks at the natural world. The first woman to win a Nobel prize and the only one to win the prize in two separate fields. A computer scientist whose research helped launch rockets into space. A pioneer who realized the dangers of air pollution during the Industrial Revolution. A champion in protecting endangered species. And the first African-American woman to receive a degree in bacteriology.

Who are they? Rachel Carson. Marie Curie. Annie Easley. Mary Walton. Jane Goodall. Ruth Ella Moore.

These are just a few of many inspiring women who have impacted all of us with their innovations in science, engineering, conservation, medicine, and human health protection. They have inspired generations of scientists, engineers, trailblazers, women, and men to find a place where they can make their own impact, no matter how small, in comparison to these great achievements.

March is Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme is Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.

In honor of women, both past and present, who have changed all of our lives for the better through their work protecting human health and the environment, this month we are profiling EPA women scientists and engineers who are striving to make the planet a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable place to live. They share their research, how they discovered their passion for science or engineering, and give advice for anyone who is interested in pursuing their dreams.

We’ll add more profiles throughout the month, so please check back as the next four weeks roll on and maybe you, too, will find a passion for environmental and human health research!

About the Author: Maggie Sauerhage is part of the communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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 Women in Science Inspire the Next Generation

By Katie Lubinsky

Who says that science and engineering fields are only for men? Women are found in all types of scientific fields and producing top-notch and significant work, especially here at EPA! June is the month to celebrate all of the many past and present women scientists and engineers. I have met with many women EPA scientists and engineers and learned all about how they reach out to schools in order to promote science and their own scientific research to students.

Being part of the Scientists at Work series, Dr. Gayle Hagler, an EPA environmental engineer, is part of EPA’s Geospatial Monitoring of Air Pollution (GMAP) project. She drives an electric, zero-emissions vehicle around that sucks in air near roadways to study the amounts and types of traffic-related air pollutants. Check out a recently released video about her research: http://www.epa.gov/airscience/air-highwayresearch.htm.

Gayle also takes part in some of the EPA’s outreach activities that are coordinated by Kelly Leovic, another great female environmental engineer here at EPA. Gayle recently developed a fun air pollution measurement demo and joined the team of EPA volunteers at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. She also recently supported a special outreach event for girls in science — teaching high school girls about studying air pollution.

As part of the Citizen Schools program in Durham, N.C., Dr. Rebecca Dodder, a physical scientist, and Carol Lenox, an environmental engineer, joined forces to create a stellar after-school “apprenticeship” on energy and the environment for sixth-grade students. During one class, the students built solar ovens from pizza boxes and then enjoyed cooking s’mores while learning about the benefits of solar power. This is all, of course, side work to their main jobs as EPA researchers who are modeling future scenarios for energy use and environmental impacts (air pollution emissions, water use, etc.).

These are just a few of the brilliant women scientists and engineers working at the EPA. Their commitment to reaching out to schools and communities helps promote science fields to future women scientists, and their research and work influences the scientific world overall. I am honored to have met these and other EPA women scientists and engineers.

About the author: Katie Lubinsky is a student contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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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Science Wednesday: Don’t wait for Wednesday—Get Science Matters!

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

By Aaron Ferster

While “TGISW” (thank goodness it’s Science Wednesday) may never catch on like that more famous exclamation about everybody’s favorite workday, I’ve come to really enjoy my weekly task of getting EPA’s weekly science post ready for Greenversations. Even though we still have another one left before the calendar flips over to 2012, we’ve already shared more “Science Wednesdays” this year than there are actual Wednesdays.

Posts were “tagged” for a diversity of EPA science activities, including sustainability (six posts this year), green chemistry (four posts), clean air research (four posts), women in science (part of the Agency’s month-long activities Celebrating Women in Science during March, 2011), risk assessment (two posts), and a host of other subjects too numerous to fit into a single blog post. We even managed to work in something about bed bugs and a hedgehog!

EPA scientists eager to share insights on their work advancing environmental models launched a series called “Modeling Matters.”

A special thanks to all our readers and commenters, who joined the science “Greenversations” to the tune of some 191 comments.

By now you’ve noticed that we have a lot of science to share, way more that can fit into weekly “Science Wednesday” posts. That’s why I’d like to invite everyone again to sign up for our newsletter, Science Matters.

The December issue includes stories on: EPA efforts to measure sustainability, an environmental model for tracking mercury levels in fish and loons in lakes across New England, news about the latest release of the Community Multiscale Air Quality Model, a link to a podcast interview about EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study—and more. To have the newsletter delivered right to your inbox, click on the link below and add your e-mail address to the box on the web site: Subscribe to Science Matters.

Until next time—TGISW!

About the Author: Aaron Ferster is the lead science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development and the editor or Science Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Environmental Compliance and Enforcement in Underserved Neighborhoods

By Cynthia Giles

Far too often in this country we see minority, low-income and indigenous communities overburdened by exposure to environmental pollution. They can see, feel, and smell the air, water and chemical pollution in their neighborhoods every day. Those environmental challenges impact public health and can limit the economic possibilities of struggling communities. Addressing these issues is a top priority for EPA and environmental enforcement, the focus of my office, is one key way we are taking action to reduce pollution in communities most in need of the work we do.

Ensuring compliance with our nation’s environmental laws and taking enforcement actions against companies or individuals when they do not follow those laws is important for three reasons:1) it levels the playing field for companies and individuals that comply with the law; 2) it ensures that public health in communities does not suffer because some facilities or individuals choose not play by the rules; and 3) it offers an opportunity, through legal requirements, to install pollution controls, clean-up contaminated sites, or conduct projects to address local health and environmental issues.

For example, last December, my office reached a settlement with NEORSD, a stormwater and wastewater treatment facility serving the Cleveland area. In the settlement, NEORSD agreed to install sewer overflow pollution controls which the sewer district estimates will lead to more than 30,000 jobs in the Cleveland area and return $2.63 for every $1.00 invested. The settlement also allows the sewer district to use of green infrastructure projects to capture water. They will engage the community to decide which neighborhoods and vacant lots to revitalize and which types of projects to use, for example: rain gardens, urban croplands and permeable pavement.

Settlements like these provide real benefits to affected communities and can help turn an environmental violator into an environmental leader. As a lawyer, an advocate for justice, and a mother, I work every day to protect our children and our families from exposure to harmful pollution. Along with many other women in the federal government, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Lisa Garcia  — EPA’s lead advocate for environmental justice — and Ignacia Moreno — my counterpart at the Department of Justice, we are taking concrete steps to ensure that every American has the foundations they need for success: air that is healthy to breathe, water that is clean to drink, and land free of toxic chemicals.

About the Author: Cynthia Giles is Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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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

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: Ann Richard

By Marguerite Huber

I have always envisioned myself working at EPA—out saving the planet. As a current intern, getting to interview those who actually do is particularly exciting to me.

Enter Ann Richard, an EPA computational chemist.

To get where she is today, Ann followed her talents in math and science to a PhD in physical chemistry. Before her post doc and EPA, she had stints working at an airport, and even an amusement park. But now, “I appreciate working for an agency that has the component of benefiting the public,” stated Ann while speaking of the EPA. She has been working here since 1987 (which is hard for me to imagine since that is longer than I have even been alive).

Today, Ann works in an area termed “chem-informatics,” a cross between chemistry and computer science that focuses the construction and use of chemical databases to address problems crossing the disciplines of chemistry, biology, and toxicology. Her greatest achievement has been the Distributed Structure-Searchable Toxicity (DSSTox) Public Database Network, sharing important information about chemicals with the public. It has been used by government, academia, and scientists worldwide. Furthermore, Ann manages the chemical informatics component of the ToxCast and Tox21 projects, which provide a foundation for improved toxico-chemoinformatics and structure-activity relationship capabilities in predictive toxicology.

In her career, Ann devotes a large effort to communicating across different disciplines. “You have to put yourself in the audience’s place and it is not easy, you have to work at it,” she said. In the end she finds it rewarding and worthwhile to try to bridge disciplines, even if she has to spend half a day on creating one perfect PowerPoint slide.

Her favorite part of her job is meeting amazing people from different countries. Ann has the opportunity to become acquainted with many talented people within her field worldwide. She derives a lot of satisfaction from knowing she has reached the point where she has gained the respect of her peers in her field.

Ann’s inspiration comes from ordinary people who do extraordinary things. While growing up, she never remembered being discouraged about being in the science field. If she was, it only made her more determined to succeed. “Don’t be intimidated,” are her wise words towards girls everywhere. In that case, I am going to pretend that toxico-chemoinformatics does not sound so intimidating!

About the author: Marguerite Huber is an intern from Indiana University currently working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: Nancy Stoner – Beaches and Clean Water

By Nancy Stoner

As I look out my window, the budding trees, blooming flowers and falling rain signal that spring is coming. With the warmer weather, my family and countless others will be headed outdoors to enjoy time by the water. For many of us, this means trips to the beach.

Recently, I spoke at the National Beach Conference to discuss water quality at beaches and efforts to protect them from pollution. Beaches are among the most beloved water bodies for my family and many Americans. In fact, about 100 million people visit America’s beaches every year. Beach tourism also pumps more than $300 billion into the U.S. economy annually.

As a mother and an environmental professional, I am deeply motivated to protect human health and the environment, which includes our beaches and the people who visit them. We shouldn’t have to cancel beach trips – or become ill or develop skin rashes – because of pollution in our coastal waters.

EPA is working closely with state and local officials across the country to develop better measures for beach water pollution. Since 2000, EPA, in partnership with state, territorial and tribal governments, has made significant progress in improving the protection of public health at our nation’s beaches. From 2004 to 2009, U.S. beaches have been open for swimming about 95 percent of the time.

EPA grants have helped fuel this progress. During the last decade, EPA provided $102 million in grant funds to 37 coastal and Great Lakes states, territories and tribes to implement programs to monitor beaches for pollutants like bacteria and to notify the public when water quality problems exist. This year, EPA is providing almost $10 million in grants to continue and expand this important monitoring.

Additionally, to make our waters safer for swimming and to prevent pollution, we are working with communities to improve sewage treatment plants; strengthening storm water regulations to reduce polluted runoff from cities and towns; and working with our federal partners to prevent marine debris from entering our oceans.

We can all do our part to help keep beaches clean by taking actions such as planting more trees, installing rain barrels, picking up pet waste, keeping trash off the beach and properly disposing of household toxics, used motor oil and boating waste. After all, clean water is important to my family and yours!

Stay tuned to Greenversations throughout Women’s History Month and check out the White House website.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water and grew up in the flood plain of the South River, a tributary of the Shenandoah River.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: Noha Gaber — Building Bridges of Leadership and Collaboration

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

By Noha Gaber

When I meet with college students to talk about the benefits of government service and the great work that we do at EPA, I usually put up a slide of a number of beautiful bridges and challenge the students to think about what I do here. After several guesses, I reveal that although I am an environmental engineer by training, I use my technical knowledge to serve as a metaphorical bridge builder at EPA. In my role as the Director of EPA’s Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling, I work with staff from across EPA to help ensure the quality, consistency and transparency of the computer models that EPA relies upon in its work. We are also working with a large number of U.S. and international collaborators to use these powerful tools to help promote sustainability and think of the environment as an integrated whole.

Shortly after I joined EPA, I came up with another bridge-building project! In early 2006 I started the EPA Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) and worked with a small group of young EPA employees to develop ELN into a thriving organization that is helping to create a more collaborative, innovative and effective EPA. In just 5 years, ELN has grown to over 1000 members in EPA’s HQ and Regional Offices.  One of our coolest activities in 2010 was the ELN Chesapeake Bay Expedition, which provided a great leadership, development, networking and community service opportunity for about 50 ELN athletes and volunteers.

I joined EPA five years ago driven by a dream to make a significant positive impact in environmental and human health protection. I’ve learned a lot in this short time — about the Agency and its diverse programs and activities, the many dedicated and talented individuals who work here and about myself as a woman who builds human bridges. Above all, I’ve learned some important lessons about leadership, collaboration and making innovative ideas a reality. I leave you with my favorite motivational quote: “Collaboration: When a collection of brilliant minds, hearts and talents come together … expect a masterpiece.”

About the author: Noha Gaber is a team leader in the Office of the Science Advisor and enjoys participating in many community service, cultural and outdoor athletic activities in her spare time.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Women in Science: From Tide Pools to Children’s Health – One Scientist’s Journey

By Brenda Foos

How did I become a woman in science? In third grade I got an “A” in science class, and I have been hooked ever since! Why environmental science? That lesson came when I was in high school and I participated in a field studies course in Acadia National Park. Growing up in Wisconsin, this was the first time I had ever seen the ocean. We spent time each day observing the tide pool ecology of the shoreline; this was a study of the complex interactions of the rocky geology, the physics of wave and tidal action, and the transient plant and animal communities that live at this high energy intersection. It was all new and incredibly interesting.

The work I do at EPA is very different from this first environmental lesson, but it is the unlimited number of fascinating science topics to learn about (biology, chemistry, toxicology, medicine, etc.) and how they all interrelate that continue to keep me challenged. Integrating the application of so many different types of science to help protect human health and the environment is what makes my work so interesting.

I don’t work in the laboratory, studying one subject in depth; I’m in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, where we help the Agency apply the best science to protect children from the effects of pollution. Among other things, we interpret studies on the effect of the air pollutant ozone on human disease, estimate children’s exposures to drinking water contaminants that may be regulated in the future, and work on new methods for how EPA assesses risks to children.

I enjoy studying such complex health and environmental science issues and applying the science in ways that ultimately helps to protect children and their families from environmental health hazards.

I hope you share my concern for children’s health and will join me in working to protect it.

About the author: Brenda Foos works in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection where she is the Director for Regulatory Support and Science Policy. She is also dedicated to sharing the environment with her own family and to protecting them from environmental hazards.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.