WVU Helps STEM Alumni Invest in Mountain State Environmental Health | WVU Today



This photo was taken in June 2023 as thick smoke from wildfires in Canada moved south and impacted air quality in the United States. A WVU researcher will mentor a recent graduate pursuing her STEM-based career that addresses environmental health concerns.
(WVU Photo/David Malecki)

WEastern Virginia has no shortage of environmental health concerns, but many STEM students are helping.It will help you leave the state after graduation.

To develop an ongoing interest in your chosen field. west virginia university is working with other state universities to create One Health West Virginia. It is a network that connects research and post-baccalaureate mentors who pursue STEM-based careers and gain training and experience to address environmental health issues in the state.

Charlene Kelley of the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design collaborated with colleagues at WVU and researchers from West Virginia State University and Marshall University, with the support of a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation. We are planning to work on One Health.west virginia

Kelly, an associate professor of forest resource management and plant and soil science, said the project considers environmental health to be integral to human health.

“We think about soil, animals, and everything that humans can affect us. Our main areas of focus are water use and quality, environmental pollution, and disease control. It’s a biological correlation,” she said.

Tim Driscoll, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, joined Kelly’s project and works in the areas of tick-borne and wastewater disease surveillance.

“It has great potential to enable new graduates to work on a variety of exciting scientific research projects,” Driscoll said. “We will also establish new relationships between academic partners, government agencies, and local and national private employers. These relationships will lead to his long-term career in STEM-related fields based in West Virginia.” We hope this will serve as a sustainable pipeline to meaningful employment opportunities.”

The program will launch in August 2024 with the first cohort of mentees. Each year, 10 mentors participate over a three-year period and work with faculty mentors to improve biological research on water quality around heritage surface mining sites, urban runoff, and contaminants such as lead and silver nanoparticles. It will address issues such as reactions and antibiotic resistance in the environment. Mentees work in full-time, 12-month paid positions and gain training in state-of-the-art scientific equipment, ethical and safe conduct of research, effective experimental design, and scientific writing and communication. The application will be available in March 2024.

Mentors also provide coaching on what students need to pursue independent research opportunities. This includes grant writing, resume writing, and computing.

Kelly said it can be difficult for recent graduates from STEM departments to find their first job, especially without a graduate-level degree. Therefore, many people leave the field. He said the initiative will provide a pathway for students who are interested in graduate school but don’t know whether they can afford the tuition or how to proceed.

“We work on all the different research areas that impact human health, but it’s not just one student working on and completing an individual project. It’s a collaborative network. learn from each other, bounce ideas off each other, and create this nest of knowledge between them. It’s not just us teaching them, they collaborate and go out and do their own thing. We are doing this.”

Additionally, mentors lead experiential trips where students connect with experts in their chosen field. These “off-ramp opportunities” provide contacts, whether in industry, science, or graduate school.

The program is open to students at the national level, and project leaders expect most students to come from small universities with limited opportunities for undergraduate research.

“The call from NSF prompted us to target underserved populations,” Kelly said.

Researchers said they believe the program is important for West Virginia because of the state’s history of mining and other industrial operations that have impacted the environment. This includes air and water quality, soil health, and forest health.

Kelly recalled the 2014 Freedom Industries chemical spill along the Elk River in Kanawha County and the 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

“While these are major events that have raised health concerns, other pollutants also occur in the environment, including ‘forever chemicals’ in our waterways. Several counties have some of the highest levels of harmful chemicals in the country.

In addition to environmental pollutants, West Virginia’s rural nature makes it difficult to believe that environmental health affects human health. Opportunities to protect human health, including access to health care, are reduced in rural areas.

“West Virginia is a convergence of all of those things,” Kelly said. “It further strengthens the idea that we can all come together to address each of these concerns. West Virginia will use this support to work to develop experts in this field of One Health.” You can do that.”

She anticipates the project’s ripple effects will be far-reaching for both state residents and mentees.

“This is going to be transformative for these 30 people,” she said. “People with an entrepreneurial spirit might take this experience and go into education, health sciences, or environmental quality, all of which can be expanded to different communities.” individuals will impact 30 students, who in turn will impact their communities. I hope it will have an impact.”

The following WVU faculty members will serve as mentors: Emily Garner, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Brent Murray, Carol Arantes, Greg Dahl, Forestry and Natural Resources; Jennifer Gallagher and Rita Rio, Biology; Dorothy Vesper, geology. and Matt Casson, plant and soil science. Also participating in the project are co-principal investigators Amir Hass of West Virginia State University and Nadja Spitzer of Marshall University.



Media Contact: Laura Roberts
research writer
WVU Research Communication
304-215-1019; Laura.Roberts@mail.wvu.edu

For the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday, call 1-855-WVU-NEWS.

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