Seeing public health through an environmental lens

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Grady Maxwell

Seeing public health through an environmental lens

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Meet Health Hero Grady Maxwell, MPH ’09

Grady Maxwell earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi, and graduated from OSU’s MPH program in 2009 with a focus on environmental and occupational health. He currently serves as a regional safety and health manager for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What inspired you to pursue a career in public health?

Having grown up in an agricultural section of Mississippi, known as the Mississippi Delta, I remembered seeing crop dusters spraying cotton fields while we played outside during school recess and signs posted warning against eating certain species/quantities of fish at popular fishing holes. As I got older and started to learn more about how the environment impacts human health, my curiosity toward public health grew.

Why did you choose Oregon State and the College of Health?

Funny thing, I actually came to Oregon State for a master’s degree in microbiology, but due to a not-so-supportive conversation, I was fortunate to fulfill my original plan of earning an MPH.  

I chose Oregon State for a change in scenery and the opportunity to challenge my interpersonal and academic abilities. Having grown up in the rural south, where it’s still segregated, Oregon State provided me the chance to experience being outside of my traditional comfort zone, to which I’m extremely appreciative.  

In addition, I gained valuable knowledge that paved the way for a successful career in public health.

What was your experience like in the MPH program?

My experience in the MPH program was exceptional; the professors challenged students to maximize their potential. Attending OSU provided an opportunity to challenge myself personally and academically. My best years in academia were at Oregon State.

What does your public health career look like?

I work for the Environmental Protection Agency as the regional safety and health manager. In this position, I provide technical expertise to management and staff within region 10 (Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska), which comprises 610 employees to protect employees’ occupational safety and health and collaborate with other agencies in times of environmental disasters, such as the Deepwater Oil Horizon Spill and Maui Wildfires.  

My career consists of a broad range of safety and health responsibilities, which includes performing ergonomic assessments for office, field and laboratory work, accident investigations, safety training, development and review of job hazard analyses, management of a regional medical surveillance program, establishment of regional safety procedures, and selection of personnel protective equipment.

Did anything or anyone help you along your academic journey?

There are three professors – Anna Harding, Shelley Su and Anthony Veltri – whom I remain in contact with. Each played a key role in my success at Oregon State. Shelley was a straightforward professor emphasizing that only hard work will get you through her Toxicology and Risk Communication seminars. Anthony was the second professor I met in the college, and his enthusiasm toward public health is matched only by his passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Though each of the three contributed to my success, none did so more than my academic advisor, Anna Harding. She was extremely supportive of me from my first visit to Oregon State, and words cannot express how thankful I am for having her as my advisor. She’s a great role model and epitomizes what a professor should be.

What do you like most about your job in public health?

I like being able to investigate hazards and provide solutions that improve the health of others. I can conduct safety oversight for employees performing enforcement inspections at facilities like the National Coast Guard in Kodiak, Alaska, or review safety and health plans for remedial project managers at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Richland, Washington. Working in a constantly evolving workforce aligned with my academic background is gratifying.

Why is this job important to the public’s health?

I’m part of an agency that strives to improve human health by preserving the Earth’s land, air and water from contamination.  

The EPA uses the best available scientific information to reduce environmental risks at a national level. This is achieved by researching environmental impacts to establish regulations that protect present and future generations.

What advice do you have for current students and young alumni?

I would like to share a quote from Steve Jobs: “Your time is limited; don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition; they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”