Nora Traviss, PhD '08

Environmental Studies
"Too often, the workplace is segregated from the outside environment - it certainly is from a regulatory context."

Nora Traviss earned a PhD in Environmental Studies in May, 2008 and teaches in the Environmental Studies department at Keene State College. In addition to her teaching, Nora serves as the chief investigator for a $750,000 KSC grant that will evaluate biodiesel's impact on public health. Here Nora writes about experiences at AUNE.

Environmental Crossroads: Where Science and Policy Intersect

In my years as an engineer and environmental health and safety professional in the chemical process industries, I found that the challenges I encountered had less to do with finding technical solutions and more to do with understanding how to collaborate with people in business and regulatory agencies. For that reason, I wanted to develop the interdisciplinary skills to navigate the intersection of science and policy.

A Natural Fit

The program at Antioch University New England was a natural fit for me. I have always been interested in how people and organizations make decisions about risk- specifically about how risk decision making could better integrate both protection of worker health and protection of the environment. Too often, the workplace is segregated from the outside environment-it certainly is from a regulatory context. There's a disconnect in U.S. regulatory programs between what are considered safe exposure levels to chemicals depending on whether one is standing inside or outside a facility fence. Since environmental studies is interdisciplinary, I was able to focus on this worker safety/environment area. Having a PhD also helps me teach at the college level and be more competitive for extramural funding and grants. Keene State College was just awarded $750,000 to evaluate biodiesel's impact on public health. As the principal investigator for this grant, I need a PhD. The degree also gives me more opportunity to present my work at scientific conferences and to influence local and regional policy.

Antioch has helped me become a reflective scholar/practitioner and to understand the broader implications of the human/environment relationship. My advisor, Tom Webler, really challenged me intellectually and professionally. He also gave me the support, mentorship, and confidence to learn new skills-in my case how to do qualitative research. His guidance really opened my eyes to the complexities of risk decision making and made me question my previous thinking and help find my own career path.

The faculty at Antioch are incredibly supportive. They challenge students to think, to ask critical questions, to consider alternative viewpoints, and to develop arguments and scholarship that is well grounded in theory and practice. The atmosphere is cooperative and collaborative, not competitive. The cohort model was especially important for me. I had a number of life changes during my time at Antioch, and my cohort and friends in other cohorts helped me get through these difficult times. Very few others could really understand the challenges of trying to balance life, work, and school like these friends.