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Education, environmental justice, women's health, chemistry — at first glance, the different passions that Alison Cohen '09 pursues seem loosely connected. But in her academic work and outside activities, the San Francisco native has brought together her diverse array of interests, earning recognition for the path she has charted in the last four years.

    Cohen, who concentrated in community health and education, will study an innovative chemicals regulation in the European Union on a Fulbright grant next year.  She said she defines environmental justice as "the right of all people to live, work and play in a clean, safe and healthy environment." Last year, Cohen was awarded the Morris K. Udall Scholarship, a federally funded award that recognizes student leadership in fields related to the environment.

    Cohen was first drawn to environmental health in high school when she was teaching middle school students in San Francisco with Summerbridge, a national non-profit that serves low-income populations around the country.

    "One of my mentees from Summerbridge is asthmatic and would miss school because of her asthma," Cohen said.  Cohen saw the connections, she said — from the environment to her mentee's health, and from her asthma to its effect on her education.

    Since, Cohen has developed an environmental justice curriculum for Summerbridge in San Francisco and worked on environmental policy with the National Resources Defense Council through a Royce Fellowship in 2007.

    Cohen also began working with the Superfund Basic Research Program her sophomore year.  "She's the only undergraduate in the group, and she's acting as if she were a graduate student, out in the front, expressing a strong opinion, suggesting things," Professor of Sociology Phil Brown said.

      For her senior thesis, Cohen worked with the Bay Area organization Communities for a Better Environment to develop and administer an environmental health survey to a community in Richmond, Calif., located by the largest oil refinery west of the Mississippi River.

    The survey aimed to document and quantify "anecdotal" health concerns in the community, Cohen said, making the leap from saying that "a lot of people are sick" to establishing that 18 percent of children in Richmond have asthma.

    After graduation, Cohen will travel to Europe to study REACH, the European Union's new chemicals regulation, which stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances.

    REACH is "the most innovative chemicals regulation in the world," said Cohen, who will be based in Brussels but traveling throughout the European Union for her research. She will be examining REACH as a model that could potentially be implemented in the United States, she said.

    Though Cohen will be packing her bags for Europe this fall, in her work so far she has focused on building connections with local communities instead of approaching environmental health on the person-to-person, national or international levels.

    Working on the community level, Cohen said keeps her "rooted," instead of "in the 30th floor of some building looking down," she said.

    "Even though she's worked on that breadth of issues, she brings all those pieces together in some pretty cohesive ways that really help her understand her issues on a much deeper level," Director of the Swearer Center Roger Nozaki MAT'89 said.

    "I came into college thinking that I wanted to be a science teacher," Cohen said.

     "Some of the same principles remain."




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