Creating Opportunities for Students in Environmental Health and Sustainability Sciences
As employment opportunities in the area of environmental health and sustainability science remain strong and continue to expand, UNI students have the opportunity to learn under the guidance and leadership of Dr. Catherine Zeman. Zeman’s educational background is extensive and extremely representative of her wealth of knowledge as she has received degrees in nursing, biology and anthropology, a master’s in Environmental Science and a PhD. in Preventive Medicine with an emphasis in Environmental and Occupational Health.
Dr. Zeman has focused her research on non-cancer end points related to environmental science and sustainability science areas. She has researched and studied nitrate induced blood disorders and the manner in which these pertain to environmental health disparities. Nitrate is a naturally occurring form of nitrogen and is very mobile in water. This topic is relevant and important to our society due to the fact drinking water that is high in nitrate has the potential to harm human health, particularly the health of children. Dr. Zeman has dedicated her outreach and community work to serving underserved and disadvantaged populations and has worked extensively with rural poor and Roma communities. She is a past Fulbright Scholar to Romania where she began working with Roma communities in 2004.
“Environmental health is perhaps the foundational area of public health and health promotion,” Zeman said. “Its first practitioners (are) recognized through their efforts to control infections and communicable diseases.” However, the role that environmental exposures play in chronic disease is also a major area of investigation involving both cancer and non-cancer outcomes.
Dr. Zeman’s work has appeared in various academic journals such as Environmental Health Perspectives and the Journal of Environmental Health and she has delivered presentations at the National Environmental Health Association and American Public Health Association. Dr. Zeman’s educational background and personal research provides UNI students with the opportunity to competently understand the theories and practices of environmental and occupational health sciences.
She teaches various classes at UNI including epidemiology, human diseases, environmental health and environmental and occupational health regulations. Students study tools utilized by environmental health professionals such as scientific and epidemiological methods and biostatistics to gain an understanding of the relationship between our health and the surrounding environment.
Zeman’s teaching style is one that allows students to achieve their full potential and reach a level of capability and independence they may not have realized prior to her courses. Her courses are detailed and fact oriented and beside a lecture portion, includes guest experts, small group discussions and projects provided to students.
“The main goal of all my teaching efforts is to aid students in developing their innate capacity to think, not to simply tell them what to think,” Zeman said. “And to judge the value of the information they discover using the methods of scientific inquiry for themselves.”
In addition to her work as a Professor and researcher/scholar, Dr. Zeman also serves as the Director of the Recycling Reuse Technology Transfer Center (RRTTC), located on UNI’s campus. The RRTTC is designed to have a positive impact on the environment and educate students and community members about topics such as sustainability, composting and recycling. The center serves as a research, education and outreach center for the development of economical approaches to solving solid waste problems and provide assistance and research on public health concerns. It works with business and industry and community groups in Iowa on topics of sustainability and solid waste issues, engaging with thousands of individuals on and off campus each year and networking with over 50 non-governmental community based organizations each year.
Zeman manages outreach activities such as promoting educational activities at the local Waterloo farmer’s market, a clean-up effort of the Dry Run Creek area, celebrating Earth Week and screening environmental health films for the local community and campus, among many other projects.
Dr. Zeman has dedicated herself to her education, teaching and research projects. But she also strongly believes in giving back to her community by working to develop new technologies and ideas to provide a bright and hopeful future for our children.
“It is a great honor to provide outreach services and programs to the larger community and to the University,” Zeman said. “It is my hope that in some small ways, I can honor the trust that has been bestowed upon me to educate young people within the community, by giving my best back to it and engaging with the community on topics of interest to them.”