Growing up in Puerto Rico, Carlos Colombani, M.S. ’16, envisioned one day working for the US Environmental Protection Agency. Today, he is living his dream.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, Carlos Colombani, M.S. ’16, envisioned one day working for the US Environmental Protection Agency. Today, as a life scientist for the Environmental Justice team in the EPA’s Division of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance for Region II, he is living his dream. But his road to achieving it was long and winding. Along the way, he gained experience and skills critical to his success.
His first stop was a B.S. in Environmental Science from the American Public University System. From there, he chose to work for the US military—another institution he admired. “Even though I come from an island that is not considered a state, the love I have for this nation made me realize that I could serve and fight for everyone’s freedom,” he said.
Columbani served for three years as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist and supply clerk stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. His responsibilities included removing hazardous materials, cleaning contaminated equipment and areas for re-use and training over 150 people on environmental health and safety.
In 2009, a burst-compression spine fracture sustained during an airborne training exercise brought his military career to an abrupt close. A year a half later, after multiple surgeries and therapy, he largely recovered, but the memory of the trauma lingers.
Interested in furthering his education, he looked for schools that accommodated veterans. Adelphi stood out, and he pursued an M.S. in Environmental Studies while also working full-time for JetBlue Airlines.
Part-way through the Adelphi program, he got his chance to work for the EPA, landing a three-month internship at its water compliance branch as part of the environmental studies curriculum.
A year later, the EPA offered him a full-time position as a life scientist for the Environmental Justice team. “The EJ team focuses on community outreach to understand what environmental issues people in different communities are experiencing,” Colombani said. “We focus on giving a fair treatment and involvement to all people regardless of their income, national origin, color or race.” The region he works with includes New York, New Jersey, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Colombani works four ten-hour days and recently had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico to conduct a webinar in Spanish about the new Environmental Justice 2020 Action Agenda—a strategic plan for advancing environmental justice.
“This made me feel great because I was able to speak to the Spanish-speaking community about the new vision and objectives under the action agenda that ultimately seeks to improve the health and environment of our overburdened communities,” he said, adding that he was also able to “perform a better community outreach and have a better understanding about the issues that are concerning our community residents.”
He describes his Adelphi professors as mentors and advisers—in particular Beth Christensen, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the environmental studies program, Gus Kalogrias, adjunct professor, and Jonna Coombs, Ph.D., associate professor and graduate coordinator of the environmental studies program, who advised him during his internship.
His advice for others who are facing obstacles in their own journeys: “Stick to your goals, and don’t let a pebble or rock stop you from achieving what you truly want.”See other stories in our After Adelphi series for 2016.
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