2009 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar
Director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) at Texas Tech University; Founding Chair and Professor, Department of Environmental Toxicology
"Our environmental toxicology program at Texas Tech is rated among the best in the nation and the world. That’s why the very top students come to us from all over the world and all over the nation. We got to that level by having a passion for excellence and having great faculty and great students."
What is your research objective/interest(s)?
My research interest is in the area of environmental toxicology, which is an area in science seeking to understand how toxic chemicals impact the health of human beings and the environment, particularly wildlife. A key focus area of my interest is in wildlife toxicology, which seeks to understand the impact of toxic chemicals on the reproduction, health and well-being of wildlife and their populations. This is a novel and unique area in science and one in which we have excelled, recently producing the top textbook in the field, Wildlife Toxicology: Emerging Contaminant and Biodiversity Issues, published by CRC Press/Taylor & Francis Group, and according to the publisher has reached international bestseller list.
How do you feel your research impacts the globe?
Our research impacts the globe through the data and publications that we produce and also with the master’s and doctoral students, our blue-ribbon product, that graduate from Texas Tech. For instance, our science is known and utilized around the world related to the assessment of toxic chemicals on humans and the environment. As the world population continues to swell and we exploit natural resources and need to produce food, environmental impacts can occur and that is what we assess in light of the fact as to how to reduce such impacts to live in a more sustainable fashion. Our students leave Texas Tech to enter academia, government and industry, and have positions across America as well as around the world. With the training they have received here at Texas Tech through our Department of Environmental Toxicology, they are truly exceptionally well-educated and ready to lead in the area of environmental toxicology and chemistry.
Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration initiated as a child with a caring grandfather who instilled in me a sense of environmental responsibility related to fish and wildlife resources. That grew into a significant interest in the environmental area during my college years which formulated into very strategic thinking in wildlife toxicology in my years as a doctoral student at Virginia Tech. It has been a tremendous opportunity to be a pioneer in my field but also to be recognized in 2010 with receipt of the Gerald H. Cross Alumni Leadership Award from Virginia Tech for my leadership in development of the field of wildlife toxicology. I sustain my inspiration with the tremendous talent and capabilities of our constant stream of graduate students coming to Texas Tech from around the world to seek out the best training possible in environmental and wildlife toxicology.
What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?
Quite frankly, leading the largest academic-based environmental toxicology program in the world is in itself a daily service project because we are producing the future leaders that hopefully can help us sustain the environment for future generations of Americans as well as people in other parts of the world. If we do not maintain clean water, soil available for growing our crops, clean air, among other environmental responsibilities, then quality of life, economic development and sustainability are all hampered.
What are you currently working on?
As Director of The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) at Texas Tech University, we literally have hundreds of research projects underway at any given time. Some areas of key major development have been in counterterrorism for chemical and biological threats, Superfund site assessment and remediation, water pollution and quality assessment and most recently assessment of impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research and service)?
As far as an area of scientific focus, “integrated scholars” have learned to balance academics, research and service. My advice to young faculty in getting started is that you have got to get a funding base established in your laboratory or in your collaborations or future research efforts will probably be futile. Therefore, you need to work to whatever degree it takes to get funding coming in, in order that you can generate scientific data that will subsequently improve your academic contributions in the classroom and to provide appropriate levels of service to your organization and community. In being a department chair for many years, generally our best teachers are our best researchers that have funding availability to continue to develop top tier science that can be shared with our students.
My educational background includes a B.S. in biology with a minor in chemistry at the University of South Carolina, a Master’s of Science from Clemson University and a Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Immediately upon receipt of my doctorate, I was awarded a United States Environmental Protection Agency traineeship in toxicology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I began my career as an assistant professor of environmental studies with a focus in environmental toxicology in the Huxley College of Environmental Studies at Western Washington University at the age of 27.