The Short Term Educational Experiences of Research in Environmental Science for Undergraduates (STEER) Program is a ten week summer internship awarded to undergraduate students interested in environmental health. Through a collaboration between the CEET, the Center for Public Health Initiatives and multiple schools and faculty at Penn, the STEER program provides didactic experiences in environmental and public health, as well as research mentorship opportunities in a variety of areas of environmental exposures and health effects. The COEC will be highlighting the achievements and experiences of 2015 STEER students below.
I am a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, currently with plans to major in Environmental Studies with a concentration in policy. Recently, I have developed more and more of an interest in public health, and have really enjoyed the ability to both research a problem and then go out into the field and help large groups of people at once. After graduation, I hope to gain a job in environmental consulting.
What is your summer research project?
This summer I am participating in the STEER Undergraduate Research Program and I am working with Professor Rich Pepino. I am researching lead poisoning and its exposure pathways among infants and children in certain areas of Lancaster City, PA. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that is difficult to detect in the environment and initially displays no outward signs of toxicity when it enters the body. It can cause serious developmental problems and can remain in ones body for up to 20 years. My partner Jamal and I have been collecting data by measuring the levels of lead in soil and paint in our chosen study area within Lancaster City with an X-Ray Fluorescence machine. Ultimately, we hope to identify all of the sources of lead into the environment, educate doctors and parents in the area of the problem, and mitigate the exposure to lead that children are currently receiving.
What are the implications of your research?
Lead inhibits development even at levels as low as 5 micrograms/deciliter in blood. At that point, children start to lose IQ points and are at an increased risk for developmental and behavioral problems. Many of these children are disadvantaged, and if we can reduce their exposure to lead, it will help to break the cycle of poverty by which disadvantage children are kept on lower socioeconomic levels by the behavioral interruptions caused by their environment. Additionally, alternate and unexpected sources of lead in the study area could help to inform future studies about possible exposure pathways.
What new skills have you gained through this experience?
Prior to the STEER program, I had some fieldwork experience, but this summer provided me with much more. This summer I have been forced to use critical thinking skills in order to map out where t host probably sources of lead in the community are and go test them thoroughly. Other skills that I have acquired are my ability to operate the X-Ray fluorescence machine, and very enhanced knowledge of ArcMap, which my partner and I used to map out our finding, as well as geolocate and georeference locations around our study area.