Student Stories: Environmental major models pesticides with EPA

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After completing several short work experiences with various Pennsylvania state agencies, Cody Cogan was ready for something different when he interned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this summer.

He found the switch from the hands-on, field-based work he had been doing -- which he thoroughly enjoyed -- to an office setting in Washington, D.C., where he developed computer models to determine the effects of pesticides on aquatic ecosystems, challenging but rewarding.

"It was great to know that what I did every day actually made a difference that I could see," he said.

The native of Weedville (Elk County), Pa., grew up with a wildlife biologist father, who instilled in him a love and respect for the environment that has been a factor in many of his life choices.

Cogan graduated last spring with a degree in environmental resource management from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and will return to the University Park campus this fall for his master's degree in agricultural and biological engineering. He started his education at Penn State Behrend in Erie, Pa.

"I chose environmental resource management because of its broad scope and versatility in both fields of study and its employment opportunities," he said. "The major prepares students for environmental issues faced today and anticipated in the future."

The internship, through Penn State's Washington Internship Program, was in the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. It administers pesticide programs in the Environmental Fate and Effects Division.

"We dealt with two issues -- what risks are posed by a pesticide and whether changes in the proposed use of the pesticide are necessary to protect the environment," he explained. "To determine this, we examined the ecological effects, or toxicity, of a pesticide, and its effect on various terrestrial and aquatic animals and plants.

"We also looked at the chemical fate and transport of a pesticide -- how it behaves and where it goes -- in soil, air and water resources."

Much of this information was obtained using computer models. Cogan worked with the EPA's Global Information System coordinator in developing spatial information.

"My favorite part of the internship was when I was given an assignment to figure out or develop something that had not been done before," he said. "I learned a lot about the government process and how things are run. I also was able to hone my GIS skills."

After graduate school, Cogan hopes to have another opportunity with the EPA or to work with Marcellus Shale natural-gas development. His dream job would be to work in the field as an environmental engineer.

"I want to know that my decisions and actions do make a difference environmentally," he said.
 

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Last Updated September 28, 2011