Seeking to tackle environmental health problems in the City of Philadelphia, Laura Brody deploys key problem-solving skills.
Graduate School & Degree
I graduated from Ursinus in 2010 with a major in Environmental Studies and minor in Sociology. After a year away from school, I decided in 2011 to apply to graduate school. I was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program. This is a two-year program and requires students to choose one of several concentrations: Environmental Biology, Environmental Advocacy and Education, Environmental Health, Environmental Policy, Urban Environment, Resource Management, or Environmental Sustainability. The program even allows students to develop a customized concentration or get a dual degree geared toward the specific career path they seek. The flexibility of this program appealed to me, considering I still was not sure of what direction I wanted to take with my career. Mid-way through my first year in the program, after developing an interest in public health and its connection to the environment, I decided on the Environmental Health concentration.
As a Safety Officer for the City of Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I), I investigate workplace injuries and illnesses. At the same time, I’m working on developing the department’s safety and health program. This program focuses in part on environmental hazards such as asbestos and lead that many of L&I’s field workers are exposed to each day. These employees include Abatement Workers who are responsible for cleaning out and sealing off vacant residential properties around the city. I am also working to incorporate sustainability measures into the department’s safety and health program, such as decreasing paper usage in the office and ensuring proper recycling practices.
Impact of Ursinus
Before I came to Ursinus, I was vaguely interested in pursuing Environmental Studies (ENV) as my major. Only after meeting Rich Wallace and taking his ENV 100 course was I absolutely certain that Environmental Studies was the major for me. The more ENV courses I took, the more convinced I became that I made the right decision. Learning about the interdisciplinary nature of Environmental Studies made me realize how many different career paths were possible with a degree in the subject. I learned more about environmental issues that I had some previous knowledge of, like habitat destruction and invasive species. I also learned about things I didn’t know much at all about before, like biophilia, environmental legislation, and some of the people at the forefront of the environmental movement. In all of my classes, I felt I was being challenged to think in new ways and do the best work I can do. Most importantly, I learned about how to address the vast complexity of environmental problems and to think critically about the relationship between humans and the rest of the world.
My independent research with Associate Professor Patrick Hurley in urban foraging helped me to feel more comfortable with public speaking, particularly by requiring me to make a presentation at a national conference. This is an important skill to develop for almost any job, and my current job requires me to lead meetings and conduct trainings for the 300-some employees in my department. Moreover, in my current job, I am sometimes responsible for finding solutions to problems among people with conflicting interests. I attribute my ability to creatively solve these problems and work productively with the other people in my department to what I learned at Ursinus generally and through the Environmental Studies program specifically.
Piece of Advice
I would advise current students to never hesitate in seeking help from their professors if they are struggling with a subject or feel unable to accomplish their goals. I would also encourage current students to utilize their time at Ursinus carefully by building connections with other ENV students. Be involved in on-campus activities and groups, and take advantage of opportunities to spend time with other students by doing things like working on the organic farm or planting trees in Hunsberger woods. This is the type of experiences I remember and enjoyed the most.
Paying It Forward
Four years goes by quickly, and it’s up to you to get as much out of your Ursinus experience as you can!