Why I do Science

Photo of a woman.

I’m the daughter of immigrants: My father was a Jewish refugee who fled Germany. My mother was an activist who emigrated from Argentina in the 1950s and later became one of the first Latinas to be promoted to full professor at UC Santa Cruz. My parents’ stories motivate the research I do as an environmental health scientist and animate my desire to translate my work into policies that improve community health.

As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I majored in development studies, and my first job after college was at a civil rights organization in San Francisco. While working that job, I met people whose environmental and occupational health was jeopardized by discriminatory policies, and I wanted to build a career that could help change that. I returned to Berkeley to study epidemiology and biostatistics, with a plan to attend medical school. But I quickly realized that I was more interested in research and teaching than in clinical work, so I remained at Cal and earned my doctorate in environmental health sciences.

As a professor, I relish the community of researchers and students in my lab, where we give one another rigorous and supportive feedback on our work that pushes the methodological boundaries of our thinking and helps us consider the policy impacts of our science. I am proud of my collaborations with communities and colleagues, in which we translate our research into assessment tools that measure the impacts of social and environmental stressors. One of these tools is the Environmental Justice Screening Method, which was a foundation for the California Environmental Protection Agency’s CalEnviroScreen. This spatial screening method is used to identify vulnerable communities that are burdened by multiple sources of pollution and require enhanced regulatory attention.

Rachel Morello-Frosch is a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and the School of Public Health. She was the 2018 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence and Equity.