Alumni Career Spotlight: Sophie Manaster

Sophie Manaster
Environmental Policy and Decision Making ‘19
Science & Technical Communications Support Contractor, Environmental Protection Agency

After graduating in fall 2019, Sophie was offered a position with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where she assists with improving the nation’s preparedness for environmental emergencies. During her undergraduate career, she was a Research Assistant for Dr. Nicole Sintov and completed internships related to her major, Environmental Policy Sophie Manaster '19and Decision Making.

Read the full interview with Sophie below:

Sophie’s Current Work

I am currently a Science & Technical Communications Support contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. I work under the Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response (CESER) in the Homeland Security and Materials Management Division (HSMMD) Immediate Office in Cincinnati, Ohio. Throughout my job search, it was very important to me that my job connected to improving environmental quality and/or public health. Seeing the bigger picture of how our work serves communities helps motivate me every day.

I support HSMMD’s Associate Division Director, Dr. Sarah Taft, with overseeing the development and delivery of research outputs, by monitoring where each project is in the process from start to finish. Our research is focused on improving the nations’ ability to respond to and recover from environmental contamination incidents through advancements in disaster characterization, wide area and infrastructure decontamination, and systems tools and materials management. I report on our weekly research highlights and program accomplishments, help monitor and track our budget and program spending, support our research project management efforts, and summarize technical support consultations for the EPA COVID-19 Internal Technical Working Group. I also am on the Morale, Welfare, Diversity, & Inclusion Committee for our division of about 60 scientists and support staff.

It is exciting to work alongside leading scientists who are improving the nation’s preparedness for and response to environmental emergencies and management challenges. Because I help monitor multiple projects, I am exposed to many areas of interest, including disinfection for the COVID-19 pandemic, oil spill cleanup, waste and spill management, water infrastructure resilience and more. My goal is to effectively communicate the findings and impacts of our research and increase the efficiency of our division operations. If I can decrease the burden on a researcher, I can hopefully free up their time to focus on important work that the public is relying on. Additionally, communicating our research ensures it is visible and accessible to our end-users, the communities we serve. The people I’ve met so far at the EPA are exceptionally welcoming and passionate about their work, and it is easy to see the importance of the research we are doing every day.

I am learning a lot in my current position and hope to continue to expand my role with the EPA. I would like to go back to school in the future and focus on equitable urban planning and environmental policy. I love research and learning—I can’t imagine never going back to school.

Undergraduate Involvement

I joined the Environment & Natural Resources Scholars program as a freshman, which connected me to a community of people also interested in outdoor recreation and service. I also volunteered for Defend Our Future, a student-led climate action group on campus.

As a sophomore, I was hired as an undergraduate research assistant for OSU’s Environmental Behavior Change Research Group, which is led by Dr. Nicole Sintov, who was my faculty mentor. Their research focuses on insights into human decision-making and behavior to promote sustainability and pro-environmental behavior change. I was able to work on a number of projects looking at food, energy, and water footprints, electric vehicle adoption, behavioral interventions and more. It gave me a chance to delve into these topics and connect with brilliant faculty, grad students and other undergrads, many of whom I’m still in touch with today. In my final year, I worked with Dr. Sintov and Ian Adams, an SENR M.S. grad, on an undergraduate thesis looking at gender differences in pro-environmental behavior engagement and responses to feedback on carbon footprints.

I would suggest applying to positions that are out of your comfort zone. I had minimal experience working on issues directly related to emergency response research, but the skills and knowledge I developed in SENR have translated well to my current job.

Internship Experience

The summer after my freshman year, I joined the Canadian Parliament Internship Program, which is a study abroad offered by the Department of Political Science. I worked for John Aldag, a Member of Parliament from British Columbia who served on the Environment & Sustainability Committee. I was exposed to many environmental policy challenges facing Canada, learned a significant amount about the political process, supported constituent outreach efforts, and even had the opportunity to meet Justin Trudeau, the Prime <>Sophie Manaster '19Minister of Canada.

Following my study abroad, I wanted to gain experience focused on environmental and social justice work. I found a program called Forest Foundation that funds paid internships for undergrads at nonprofits in Boston, and I used money from OSU’s STEP program to help cover my living expenses. I spent two summers working for Corporate Accountability, a global campaign organization that seeks to hold corporations accountable for promoting public health, human rights, democracy, and a healthy planet. I worked on media and communications on issues related to climate, food, and water justice, and spent a second summer researching water privatization and issues related to national and international water policies. We worked closely with activists based in Lagos, Nigeria; Flint, Michigan; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and many other cities facing water crises. It was an invaluable experience that exposed me to the power of strategic campaigning and advocacy.

Advice For Current Students

I definitely recommend developing relationships with faculty and other people in your field, because you never know where a connection will take you. For example, I learned about my current position at EPA through a friend I met while working as a research assistant. SENR professors are some of the most dedicated, kind, interesting people, and undergrads should take advantage of the opportunity to get to know them better.

Additionally, I would suggest applying to positions that are out of your comfort zone. I had minimal experience working on issues directly related to emergency response research, but the skills and knowledge I developed in SENR have translated well to my current job.

Finally, if you know you want to work in public service, stay committed to that goal! Our planet and communities need people who are dedicated to this work, now more than ever.