Environmental Factor, November 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS Center Intern Recognized by EPA Head
By Eddy Ball
Fifteen-year-old NIEHS-supported center intern Otana Jakpor enjoyed the latest boost in her burgeoning career in the environmental health sciences on September 30 when she received special recognition from Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), during Jackson's visit to Los Angeles. Jakpor is affiliated with the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center (SCEHSC)(https://scehsc.usc.edu/) at the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine.
Jakpor was part of an audience of more than 2,000 international attendees and dignitaries at the three-day Governors' Global Climate Summit 2: On the Road to Copenhagen, as Jackson delivered a videocast keynote address(http://climatesummit.greenstreetscene.com/channel/conferences/globalclimatesummit2/keynote-speakers/idx3/lisa-jackson) . Jackson pointed to new rules issued by EPA under her leadership to "put climate solutions into action" as this administration takes creative, responsible and aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Toward the end of her talk, Jackson made an appeal on behalf of "generations yet to come" and singled out Jakpor for "her extraordinary work [that] helped to move California to pass [stronger] legislation on clean air."
At Jackson's request, Jakpor stood, and the audience gave her a vigorous round of applause. Moving to the end of her address, Jackson used the intern's advocacy of clean air to challenge her audience. "She is an extraordinary young woman [who] has done her part," Jackson said. "Now it's time to do our part."
On the opening day of the summit, Jackson shared the stage with keynote speakers California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and actor Harrison Ford. Among the other distinguished scientists and political figures at the historical event were Former Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, and Rajendra Pachauri, Ph.D., Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former North Carolina State University professor. Blair and Pachauri joined Schwarzenegger for a "Very Special Conversation"(http://climatesummit.greenstreetscene.com/channel/conferences/globalclimatesummit2/conversation/global-climate-summit-2-arnold-schwarzenegger-tony-blair-rajendra-pachauri) about the challenge and promise of the upcoming the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.
With her remarks about Jakpor, Jackson joined an impressive list of officials at EPA, scientific groups and elsewhere - including former President George W. Bush - who have acknowledged the young woman's contributions to environmental health. She first came to public attention at age 13, and since then, has continued to win recognition and awards for her work (see text box).
In the years to come, state and federal regulatory agencies will no doubt hear much more from the young scientist, who was first inspired by the difficulties her mother, obstetrician Karen Jakpor, faced with severe chronic asthma. As Jakpor digs deeper into the health effects of air pollution, she is sure to bring additional evidence to support her scientific and humanitarian crusade for stronger efforts to ensure people have cleaner air to breathe everywhere - in their homes, schools and offices as well as outdoors.
One Teenager's Personal "Road to Copenhagen"
When SCEHSC epidemiologists first encountered Jakpor, the Riverside, Calif. high-school junior was presenting her research findings at the May 2009 meeting of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) in San Diego. They immediately recognized a talented young scientist they wanted to help nurture.
At the same ATS meeting, Jakpor also caught the attention of representatives of the American Lung Association. She is currently a volunteer spokeswoman for the American Lung Association in California - Inland Counties chapter as well as a USC intern.
Jakpor first came to the public's attention in 2007 during a California Air Resources Board meeting, where she spoke as an advocate for people with asthma exacerbated by poor air quality. Since then she has articulated her concerns at conferences and federal hearings - consistently winning over audiences with her insightful statements, professionalism and persistence.
In the past few years, Jakpor has won science fairs, received awards from the Discovery Channel(http://school.discoveryeducation.com/sciencefaircentral/dysc/finalists/profiles/jakpor_otana.html) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, been honored by the Environmental Protection Agency with a 2007 President's Environmental Youth Award, and earned recognition from members of Congress and President George W. Bush in 2008 for her research into the effects of ozone-producing air purifiers on lung function. Earlier this year, Jakpor received a first-place Action For Nature 2009 International Young Eco-Hero Award .
During her internship at the USC NIEHS Center, the aspiring environmental health scientist has worked on projects mapping demographic issues around rail yards and exploring environmental justice issues that arise when schools are planned near sources of air pollution generated by highway, ship and rail traffic. She has also developed an interest in the health effects of water pollution.
The future looks bright for Jakpor. She skipped a grade at Riverside's Woodcrest Christian High School and is now starting to apply to colleges. She already has the ATS conference presentations(http://www.atsjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1164/ajrccm-conference.2012.185.1_MeetingAbstracts.A1756) to her credit and a paper accepted for publication.
Jakpor may not be able to attend this year's conference in Copenhagen, but her friends and colleagues probably won't be too surprised if her research takes her deeper into the issues surrounding global climate change - and the important co-benefits for respiratory health that could come from decreasing the accumulation of greenhouse gases worldwide.