Alison Simcox, G98
Alison Simcox completed a PhD degree in water-resources engineering through Tufts’ Civil and Environmental Engineering department. In November 2011, she discussed the Tufts Environmental Alumni chapter, which recently received official recognition from the Tufts Alumni Association, and her role on the TEA steering committee with Tufts Institute of the Environment intern Libby Mahaffy.
Libby Mahaffy: How are you using what you learned at Tufts in your current work?
Alison Simcox: Currently, I am an environmental scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) New England office in Boston. I returned to graduate school, starting at the University of Arizona and transferring to Tufts, after working many years as a geologist and hydrologist at consulting firms and government agencies (USGS and US EPA). This was a golden opportunity for me to broaden my knowledge of science, to gain more technical and analytical skills, and to teach. In addition, I was fortunate to have a research position throughout my tenure at Tufts at the National Council of Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI), a research institute for the forest-products industry.
It’s difficult to distill what I learned at Tufts into a statement about my current work. At Tufts, I deepened my knowledge of water-resources engineering, hydrologic modeling, chemistry, statistics, and other subjects, and gained a new admiration for the ability and creativity of scientists and engineers in addressing (but not necessarily solving) complex environmental problems. I also verified what I had known about myself before – that I enjoy academic challenges and, through sheer persistence, can attain goals that I set for myself.
A few years after returning to EPA, I shifted my career into the air-quality and energy fields. It was, in part, my experience at Tufts in successfully tackling new subjects that gave me the confidence to jump into new environmental disciplines. I also initiated and continue to manage a large modeling project to predict mercury levels in fish and fish-eating birds in lakes throughout New England. Knowledge that I gained at Tufts about GIS and remote-sensing technology, watershed processes, and statistics was key to demonstrating my ability to manage this project. Planning and organizational skills that I acquired during my dissertation research are also assets in all my current work.
What drew you to the steering committee of the Tufts Environmental Alumni chapter?
I was invited to join by a member of the TEA steering committee, Mark Teitz, who I knew through a local church. While chatting on the commuter train from Boston, we discovered that we had both attended Tufts and had professional interests in environmental issues. That chat was one of those unexpected events that turn out to have a lasting effect on my life. I decided to join TEA because I had had little interaction with the Tufts alumni since completing my doctorate in 1998, and wanted to reconnect with an academic community. I was also curious to learn how an alumni group could help current and former students in their careers and professional development.
What do you bring to the chapter?
Over the years, I have built a network of colleagues in a variety of work settings, including consulting, academia, and government. Coincidentally, two other members of the TEA steering committee work at the same firm, Haley & Aldrich, where I had previously worked.
I have considerable hands-on experience doing scientific research, and in developing and implementing environmental regulations. I have also worked as a science writer and enjoy writing about science in a way that avoids jargon and can be understood by non-scientists. I hope this background will be valuable to TEA as we plan activities and interact with environmental scientists and policy-makers.
What are the next steps for the steering committee?
I joined the steering committee soon after they became an official chapter so I have the privilege of being part of shaping TEA for the future. From the start of my involvement with TEA, I have been impressed with the scope of their activities and openness to new ideas.
The first TEA event that I attended, the Crane Beach ecology walk in October 2011, was popular and thoroughly enjoyable. The second event the following month, a happy hour at the Lir Irish pub in Boston, was a great way to relax following a day of talks at an environmental conference (SETAC-North America). TEA’s upcoming activities include a banquet, career panel, speaker forum, and another field trip, possibly to an area with vernal pools. Stay tuned!
If you ended up moving away from the Boston area, how would you want to stay connected with Tufts?
It’s safe to say that I’ll be in the Boston area at least until my son finishes high school in 2015. By then, I’ll have made more connections with Tufts alumni and will stay in touch through various social and networking media. I hope I would be able to continue helping the TEA steering committee by, for example, hosting a TEA event, writing an article for the on-line newsletter, or suggesting speakers. It’s actually difficult not to stay connected with Tufts because, despite being a relatively small university, I seem to run into Tufts’ alumni wherever I go!
Why would an alumnus want to be involved in the Tufts Environmental Alumni chapter?
For most people, their university years are some of the richest and most rewarding of their lives. An alumni group allows former students to stay connected with a university and to give something back. TEA offers alumni opportunities to meet people with shared interests and to participate in an array of academic and social events. For many people, the most important reason may be the most practical one – to share resources to help land a job. And after getting a job, field trips, social events and other activities will be reasons enough to stay involved.
What do you think the TEA mascot should be?
Although Canada may have already claimed it, I like the idea of having a common loon as our mascot. Loons are beautiful black-and-white birds that have a distinctive wilderness call. Like the turtles that Ann Gisinger suggested, loons are indicators of ecosystem health, especially of mercury contamination. Evidence shows that reducing mercury deposition to watersheds can have a quick positive effect on entire ecosystems as indicated by the health of loons.