In many ways, Nora Traviss stands at the intersection of environmental protection and occupational health protection. She has served in senior management for chemical and pharmaceutical companies, always responsible for environmental management and worker health protection. Her background in engineering and industry gives her a deep understanding of risks in the workplace, and that, combined with AUNE’s ES PhD program, has fostered what she calls her “fascination with the interaction between the workplace and the outside environment.”
“The environmental movement tends to think of the environment as ‘out there.’ We don’t often consider how we can make workplaces healthier and thereby reduce pollution risk. That’s my research interest. I needed a broader view, from political economy to history and policy. So the interdisciplinary aspect of Antioch University New England’s program drew me to it… I’ve entered my fifth life—as researcher-scholar—and it’s very exciting.”
Nora won an EPA grant to assess the effect of biodiesel on workers exposed to its exhaust. The research allowed her to collaborate with a particulate matter toxicology expert at Keene State College who had been asked by the city to help evaluate its recycling center, where biodiesel fuels much of the equipment. Presented with an ideal site for her research, Nora joined the faculty at Keene State’s Technology Design and Safety Department, and immediately involved students in laboratory and testing work.
After a year of collecting data, Nora is writing her dissertation. “Antioch is one of the few places where you can do innovative dissertations, and mine is an example of combining quantitative and qualitative, which allows more holistic and comprehensive look at the issue,” she said. “The program has enabled me to do rigorous science, to maintain my job, involve my students in my research, involve the community in my research, and do relevant policy research.”
Nora’s research has helped narrow the gaps in the scientific knowledge about biodiesel. Among other things, her study found that a 20 percent blend of biodiesel and diesel effectively reduces harmful particulate matter that is of greatest concern to health officials—a previously unsubstantiated finding.