Lobel Named to Sustainability Post

December 18, 2013

Wheelock Professor Lisa LobelWheelock Assistant Professor of Biology Lisa Lobel was appointed as the fifth director of the Colleges of the Fenway (COF) Center for Sustainability for the Environment.

The Center is a collaboration of faculty, staff, and students from the six COF member colleges working together to enhance understanding of the complex issues of sustainability as they relate to natural resources and the environment. The mission of the Center is to engage and support faculty and students in all aspects of sustainability and environmental issues by providing resources and activities focused on education, scholarship, and service to the community.

In the following series of questions and answers, Prof. Lobel explained her interest in sustainability and her goals as director of the COF Center for Sustainability for the Environment.

As a Professor at Wheelock College, what can you bring to the Center?
I feel that having faculty from each of the COF colleges rotate through as the Director of the Center for Sustainability and the Environment allows each individual and campus bring their particular strengths to the Center. Wheelock College's mission is to improve the lives of children and family. As the current Director of the Center, I hope to form partnerships and introduce programs that focus on how improvements in sustainability and urban environmental issues can be viewed as positive change regarding environmental justice.

My views on sustainability are rooted in environmental science and ecotoxicology. Sustainable management of the environment includes obtaining all that we need from the natural environment without fouling it. I bring concerns about the future both as a scientist and as a mom. I feel that there is an increased need for education regarding issues in sustainability and the environment and that the two are closely linked. My goals are to increase awareness in the COF community of the importance of sustainability practices and how these lead to improved environmental health. Environmental issues I am most concerned about are endocrine disrupting chemicals and other anthropogenic toxic substances that are making their ways into our environment, waterways and our water.

Originally, how did you become interested in sustainability?
I can't pinpoint my interest in sustainability to any specific event, but my early experiences did influence my interest in the environment. As a child, I lived in a very small town on the banks of the Ohio River. My mother would not allow me to swim in the river, because she said it was polluted. At the time, I found this rather annoying as I watched all my friends swim. It looked fine to me! However, I vividly remember when a toxic spill had occurred up river from our town. The news stated that we were not allowed to drink any of the town water for 24 hours. I was very concerned. What was I going to drink? This was before bottled water was commonly available. I continued to worry whether the water was safe even after the 24 hours had passed.

What experience do you have in this field?
My experience in the environmental field started with an undergraduate internship at Pacific Gas and Electric Company in California. After I graduated, I worked as a biologist for PG&E full time. My primary duties were to conduct the monthly aquatic bioassays on effluents from Bay Area power plants as required to maintain discharge permits under EPA's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). I also gained valuable experience monitoring populations in river and terrestrial ecosystems. Other experience includes assessing statewide sediment toxicity for the Bay Protection and Toxic Cleanup Program run by the California Department of Fish and Game.

After returning to graduate school, I conducted my research at Johnston Atoll (a remote atoll in the Central Pacific, 800 miles from Hawaii) our nation's first chemical weapons demilitarization site. This work involved assessing whether incineration of chemical weapons (sarin nerve gas and mustard agent) had a negative impact on the surrounding coral reef habitat. A comprehensive survey as part of an environmental risk assessment was conducted. The realization that standard risk assessment protocols did not focus on local animals resulted in my developing a field assay to assess chemical impacts on the development and reproduction of a reef fish. Working with multiple agencies including the EPA, US FWS, US Coast Guard, US Air Force and US Army on cleanup, remediation and conservation issues at Johnston and other Pacific locations resulted in translating research into DoD policy. Continuing this work as a post-doctoral fellow at Boston University, I translated these policies into practice by producing a website-based database providing resource information for DoD managers aiding in compliance with Federal Law, particularly with regards to the need to inventory biologically or geographically significant or sensitive natural resources

What aspect of our environment are you most passionate about?
As an ichthyologist, I am most passionate about aquatic environments. With that said, all of the Earth's systems are interconnected and cannot be studied in isolation. For example, I am very concerned about ocean acidification and the widespread impacts in oceanic environments resulting from human based inputs of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. The oceanic impacts will have widespread impacts on terrestrial ecosystems as well as humans. Therefore even when focusing on one small or even large system we must consider all of the pathways and connections among environmental systems.

What are your goals for this upcoming year?
I have been working closely with the many Center faculty members and former Directors to formulate goals for the next two years. The major goals for the Center this year are to increase student participation and for the proposed Minor in Sustainability to go through the approval process at all COF schools. Having student representatives from each campus participate in the Center meetings would allow them to bring their own unique perspectives to the Center and help the Center focus more on what the students want, in terms of increasing sustainability on the COF campuses. I would also like to provide more opportunities for student and faculty collaboration among the campuses, whether it is that they are working on collaborative research projects or attending conferences. Increasing student collaboration among campuses allows the strengths of students at each campus to be combined.

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