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Your Environment. Your Health.

2016 Winners

Superfund Research Program

Congratulations to the 2016 winners of the KC Donnelly Externship Award!

Sara Flanagan

Sara Flanagan

Sara Flanagan is a doctoral student at the City University of New York and a research associate of the Columbia University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Community Engagement Core (CEC) under Yan Zheng, Ph.D. For her externship, she will work with Steve Spayd, Ph.D., at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and other researchers at the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH).

Her current research is aimed at investigating motivators and barriers for water testing and treating arsenic-affected private wells used for drinking water. Through this externship, Flanagan will collaborate with NJDEP and NJDOH on community engagement and intervention strategies to increase private well arsenic testing and motivate well owners to reduce their risk of exposure.

"Developing, implementing, and evaluating intervention strategies to communicate risk and promote protective health behavior will help me develop skills that are valuable across a broad range of environmental health issues," noted Flanagan. "Working closely with NJ State agencies will also be a valuable opportunity to observe public health practice and better understand the end users of the tools CEC is developing to assist with reducing arsenic exposure in private well communities."

Angela Gutierrez

Angela Gutierrez

Angela Gutierrez is a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky SRP Center under the guidance of J. Zach Hilt, Ph.D. Gutierrez will spend her externship at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development's Engineering Technical Support Center under the guidance of John McKernan, Ph.D., and Souhail Al‐Abed, Ph.D.

Her current research centers on the development of magnetic nanoparticles coated with plant polyphenol-derived polymers to selectively bind polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners. Through this externship, Gutierrez will learn new techniques to transfer laboratory research into usable remediation technology by focusing on quality assurance and laboratory procedures for evaluating new technologies.

"This opportunity will enhance my knowledge of environmental remediation technologies, focusing on using nanomaterials for remediating contaminants in the environment. I will also learn the skills required to successfully transfer laboratory work into field‐scale studies," Gutierrez said. "The support and expertise of Dr. John McKernan and Dr. Souhail Al‐Abed at EPA, the proposed translational research project, and the conceptual and technical training I will obtain from this externship will provide a solid foundation and invaluable skills for my long-term goals as an academic researcher."

Jessica Laine

Jessica Laine

Jessica Laine is a doctoral student in epidemiology at the University of North Carolina under the direction of Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., and David Richardson, Ph.D. For her externship, Laine will work with Mary Gamble, Ph.D., at the Columbia University SRP Center.

Laine's research focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms of health effects from exposure to environmental toxicants. Through this externship, she will expand on her current research regarding the relationship between prenatal inorganic arsenic (iAs) exposure and birth outcomes to investigate the impact of nutrients involved in one carbon metabolism and the effects on maternal metabolism of iAs and adverse birth outcomes.

"Working with this highly dynamic group of diverse scientists and students at the Columbia SRP will be a unique experience that will promote interdisciplinary personal and academic growth and advance my career," Laine said. "The K.C. Donnelly Externship will allow me to continue my efforts and pursuit of a multidisciplinary approach to better understand the health effects of exposure to environmental toxicants."

Ralph Pietrofesa

Ralph Pietrofesa

Ralph Pietrofesa is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania SRP Center under the direction of Melpo Christofidou-Solomidou, Ph.D., and Steven Albelda, M.D. Pietrofesa will travel to Brown University to work with Agnes Kane, M.D., Ph.D.

His current research focuses on investigating the role of flaxseed and its derivatives in preventing asbestos-induced lung disease using rodent models with accelerated mesothelioma development. This externship will expand upon Pietrofesa's research to explore the influence of synthetic flaxseed derivatives on the toxicity of another compound, copper-based nanoparticles. The externship will extend his current work on asbestos to another compound while enabling him to gain valuable experience in toxicological research and learn novel analytical techniques.

"Dr. Agnes Kane is a global expert in the field of environmental toxicology and represents a wealth of knowledge that would greatly benefit me," Pietrofesa said. "Having the opportunity to gain exposure to multiple disciplines, perspectives, and expertise will significantly contribute to my career development."

Aditi Sengupta

Aditi Sengupta

Aditi Sengupta, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona SRP Center working under Raina Maier, Ph.D. Sengupta will conduct an externship at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, California under the direction of Eoin Brodie, Ph.D.

Her current research uses multi-omics tools to understand the role of microbes during primary soil formation and the influence of physical and chemical properties of soil on microbial populations. During this externship, she will learn advanced microbial modeling skills, including development of predictive models of the microbial community and environmental processes and functions related to soil stability.

"With the training I receive in Dr. Brodie's lab, I will be able to identify and study variables useful in microbial community modeling," said Sengupta. "With this information, I aim to develop theoretical frameworks of modeling soil microbial community heterogeneity in oligotrophic environments, including acid mine tailing sites, and new and evolving landscapes with very low organic matter."

Renee Wurth

Renee Wurth

Renee Wurth is a doctoral student at the Northeastern University Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) SRP Center under the direction of Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D., and Phil Brown, Ph.D. Wurth will spend her externship at the University of California, Berkeley SRP Center, working with Rachel Morello-Frosch, Ph.D.

Her current research focuses on the relationship between diet and urinary endocrine disruptor biomarkers. This externship will allow Wurth to learn new skills in water quality analysis, model and tool development, and dissemination of information, while investigating the impact of environmental health hazards in water and engaging with vulnerable local communities in California.

"Dr. Morello-Forsch is an expert in cumulative impacts analysis. Working with her and with water equity stakeholders will give me exposure to water equity research and novel community-engaged strategies for its translation," Wurth said. "The K.C. Donnelly Externship will offer a unique opportunity to further my career development through gaining new analytical and translational skills to target and alleviate environmental health disparities."

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