While I was busy studying environmental business in college, my sister Katie was putting her biology and chemistry degrees to work at the EPA. I do not have much of a science background, so I decided to sit down with one of my sister’s previous coworkers and friends, Monica Onyszko, to learn more about what goes on in the Air Enforcement Branch at the EPA.
What is your position at the EPA?
I’m an environmental engineer in the Air Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Branch. I investigate air emissions at industrial plants to figure out if they are complying with the Clean Air Act.
What is a typical day like for you?
There is no typical day at the EPA. For example, today I’ll be drafting an information request to a steel mill. On other days I may be out on an inspection, looking into applicability of laws, developing a notice of violation to issue to a plant, etc.
What is the best part of your job?
Knowing that after all our hard work, a real difference is being made, is the best part of my job. After a plant is cited for a violation and a case concludes with a legal document containing provisions the plant must adhere to in order to get back into compliance with the Clean Air Act, makes it all worth it.
Did you always have an interest in the environment?
Yes! In high school I wanted to help the environment and I seemed to do well in math and science. I decided to combine the two, and chose to study environmental engineering in college.
What classes did you take in school that you use on the job today?
Taking math and science classes helps with my current job. In college, I worked part time in an air research lab. That was a good way to learn and get hands-on experience.
Do you have any advice for kids today who have an interest in protecting our environment?
Start by being “green” yourself, and share your “green” ways with family and friends (maybe it’ll rub off on them). Pay attention to environmental issues in the news in the U.S. and the world to educate yourself. Pursue a career that will allow you to make a positive impact on the environment.
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.