Last week, Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was scheduled to give a public talk at Nassau Community College. I was able to arrange to have her guest lecture my class in the morning before the public lecture, and it was a great experience for my students.
Gina McCarthy’s personal history of starting at a state college just like my students (and myself!) and being open to accepting new challenge and risks was inspirational. She first gave the class an overview of her personal history and how her career led her from local government in the Boston area to eventually lead the the EPA under President Obama. Along the explanation of her career, she made it clear that she always considered environmental protection to be a public health concern as much as, possibly more than, protection just for the environment’s sake. Clean air and water regulations are important for maintaining public health, especially among societies most vulnerable populations.
For the second half of the class, the students were able to ask questions. I was impressed by the quality of questions the students asked, as most of them connected the ecological concepts we have been studying to the concerns of the EPA and Mrs. McCarthy’s experiences in Washington. Some of the questions covered concerns including climate change, extreme weather events, the transition to a new EPA administrator, and the water quality crisis in Flint Michigan. One of the major takeaways from the experience was the knowledge that regulatory change is a process that takes considerable time and effort. The benefit to bureaucratic processes is that stability is maintained because things cannot change overnight.
I am very thankful to Gina McCarthy for taking time out of her hectic schedule to come and speak to my class, and to Nassau Community for arranging for her visit. It was a wonderful experience for my students and myself to meet her and I have no doubt it will be one of my students most memorable college experiences.