Eco Awareness

Taking on Environmental Inequalities

Sonam Gill 150

Sonam Gill MSEM ’13, MBA ’13 didn’t think twice about giving up her summer vacation last year to research San Joaquin Valley towns that showed high rates of health defects in children, poor air quality, and pesticide-contaminated water.

For Gill, the research was more than theoretical—she has relatives in the San Joaquin Valley. Environmental inequalities associated with such factors as geography, race, and ethnicity can lead to increased cases of asthma, cancer, and birth defects, Gill said. She saw her research, part of an internship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a steppingstone to a career in raising awareness about low-income, minority, and child populations living in polluted and toxic areas.

“Exposures to insufferable conditions endured on a daily basis are not normal and are a breach of justice,” Gill said. “Many of these environmental issues have a synergistic effect on the health of the communities in the valley.”

Gill was part of a select cohort of 40 university students chosen from across the nation to intern with experts from the EPA and NASA’s Ames Research Center. Students worked on projects to improve environmental and earth science research, as well as environmental decision-making by politicians and policymakers, by applying earth science data and technology to local problems.

After the internship, Gill landed a part-time position with the EPA as a research assistant for the environmental justice program.

“Before the internship, I worked at a biotech consulting firm, and I would stare at the clock waiting for it to hit 3, 4, and, finally, 5 o’clock,” Gill said. “At the EPA, I often get so wrapped up in my projects that I lose track of time.”

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