Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Using a Humanities Degree to Protect Human Health and the Environment

In the summer of 2007, I was pursuing a degree in anthropology at the University of Washington, and I was also an intern at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Wait. What? The EPA is in Washington D.C., and besides, what could an anthropology major possibly do at that agency? How did that work?

EPA has regional offices in ten cities across the country that employ thousands to do the work of the agency in the states—and there are plenty of opportunities for the humanities.

My internships at EPA have included creating an Injury and Illness Prevention Guide for employees, reviewing and managing grants, and working with local water systems to track progress in drinking water regulations. Nearly three years later, I am in the Student Career Experience Program working in strategic planning. I am able to earn my master’s degree in Policy Studies and work in a field directly related to my academic education.

In my current job, I work with staff in all the national and regional programs to manage and track progress in applying EPA’s mission: Protecting human health and the environment. I see the diversity of EPA work performed right here in Seattle and the agency’s local impact.

I recently toured the Wyckoff Eagle Harbor Superfund Site, a former wood-treating facility and shipyard on Bainbridge Island where over twenty years of extensive cleanup work has significantly reduced harmful contaminants in the soil, water and air. Areas of the beach in formerly contaminated sections are open to the public while daily cleanup occurs at the new groundwater treatment plant.

At Wyckoff, EPA works with local agencies and groups to keep the cleanup going regularly. Scientists measure contaminants, community coordinators field residents’ concerns and project managers direct the cleanup—these are all professionals with skills from a spectrum of backgrounds.

My internships have allowed me to pursue my interests, align work with my education, and build professional networks in the growing field of environmental issues. Whether you are a biologist, a psychologist, an accountant or a public relations coordinator, there is probably somewhere in the EPA for you to apply your skills. For me, it’s been a perfect fit—I use my humanities degree everyday to protect human health and the environment.
Andrea Schrock is a program analyst in strategic planning and regulatory development for EPA Region 10. She works in the Seattle EPA office.