Profiles of Current Students

James WattJames Watt, MS

James is a third year PhD candidate specializing in toxicology and risk assessment. After earning a BA in Kinesiology and Applied Physiology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, James developed his investigative research skills as a laboratory technician in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the Boston University School of Medicine. James became interested in learning to apply these skills to broader, public health-related fields and completed a Master of Science degree in Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health.

His doctoral dissertation research with Dr. Jennifer Schlezinger focuses on environmental endocrine disruptors implicated in obesity. James uses laboratory-based approaches to determine the mechanisms and consequences of nuclear receptor-mediated fat cell differentiation in response to environmental contaminant exposure. Specifically, James is focusing on the bone marrow compartment, a complex microenvironment in which perturbations have implications on bone health and structure, as well as on the developing immune system. He is also working in collaboration with Dr. Tom Webster on developing predictive models of nuclear receptor activation for use in chemical mixture screening assays.

James has earned the Dean’s Award for Student Research at Boston University’s Scholar’s Day for his work in environmental toxicology and presented at the 2014 Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting in Phoenix. As a trainee supported by Boston University’s Superfund Research Program, James attends and presents his work at the annual NIEHS Superfund Research Program Meeting (held this year in San Jose, CA), a national conference that draws together a range of academic researchers and experts in environmental health, environmental engineering, and public health.

Rebecca LawsRebecca Laws, MPH

Rebecca Laws is a 4th year PhD student specializing in environmental epidemiology and exposure assessment. She previously received a Masters in Public Health from BUSPH and a Bachelors of Science in Biology from Duke University. She further enhanced these skills as a research assistant at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and at the Exposure Biology Research Group at BUSPH. She is interested in investigating exposure-related disease, particularly in vulnerable populations and environmental justice communities.

Rebecca’s dissertation research is focused on an epidemic of chronic kidney disease in Central America. The epidemic disproportionately affects young, male agricultural workers, and although many occupational and nonoccupational causes have been hypothesized, the etiologic agent remains unknown. Her research aims to characterize the type of kidney damage, evaluate occupational factors, and investigate the role of metals exposure in a cohort of Nicaraguan workers in the sugarcane, mining, stevedoring, and construction industries.

Rebecca’s work has been recognized at the BU Science and Engineering Symposium, where she earned the Dean’s Award for Student Research.  She has been awarded an EPA STAR Fellowship to support her research, and recently presented her work at the annual conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology in Seattle, WA.

Stefani PennStefani Penn, MS

Stefani is a 4th year PhD candidate who specializes in exposure and risk assessment. She received a Master of Science in Exposure Sciences from the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University. She took an interest in urban environmental health impacts and gained further experience working as an intern at the Central Puget Sound Transit Authority in Seattle, WA before coming to the Environmental Health Department at BUSPH to study air quality exposures and viable interventions to improve human health.

Stefani’s dissertation is focused on determining the contribution of airports to local and regional air pollutant exposures and health impacts using various methods. Her work includes a technical comparison of monitoring-based regression models and atmospheric dispersion models for predicting aviation impacts on local air quality, assessment of airport-related emissions on concentrations of harmful combustion-related pollutants and their effects on health in comparison to other polluting sources, as well as an analysis of intervening policies appropriate for reduction of source-specific public health impacts.

For her modeling-based work, Stefani received First Prize in the FAA’s 10th Annual Joseph A. Hartman Student Paper Competition and sat on the Aviation Emissions Characterization Panel providing expertise on local air quality assessments at the Department of Transportation. She will be presenting at the International Society of Exposure Science’s annual conference in Cincinnati, OH next month.

Emma PrestonEmma Preston, MPH

Emma Preston is a 3rd year PhD student specializing in exposure assessment and environmental epidemiology. She previously received a Masters in Public Health in Global Environmental Health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and a Bachelors of Arts in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College. Additionally, Emma enhanced her exposure science and analytical chemistry skills as a research assistant working with Dr. Dana Boyd Barr and Dr. P. Barry Ryan at the Analytical Exposure Science and Environmental Health Laboratory at Emory University.

Emma’s dissertation research is focused on human exposure to consumer product chemicals and endocrine disruption in two Boston area cohorts. Specifically, she is investigating flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals and their potential effects on thyroid hormone homeostasis. Her research aims to characterize human exposure to these chemicals, to investigate their individual effects on circulating thyroid hormones, and to use novel epidemiologic and statistical methods to model complex mixtures of these exposures.

Emma is supported by the NIH T32ES014562 training grant. She recently presented her work at the annual Brominated Flame Retardant Conference in Indianapolis, IN.