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The only time I had ever heard seniors talk about a thesis, it was usually when they were
complaining about it. So in the fall of 2009 when my thesis seminar began, I was apprehensive to begin
what would eventually become a catalyst for my professional career goals. I always had a strong
interest in the sciences and began my college career in pursuit of a doctorate in pharmacology. I had
taken the standard pre-requisite courses and was naively certain it was the best path for me. One of my
elective courses in environmental science sparked my interest much more than the hard sciences did,
and so I continued to take an environmental science elective whenever possible. It didn’t hit me until
early in my junior year that I should simply pursue environmental science as a major; the pre-requisites
were similar so I wouldn’t have much catching up to do. It was the best decision of my college career.
I pursued experiences on the social side of environmental science outside of the classroom as
well. I interned at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in San Francisco to expose myself
to potential careers in the field. My interest in the legal and policy-driven sector grew immensely,
especially after being at work and celebrating the House passage of H.R. 2454, the American Clean
Energy and Security Act of 2009, which would pass an economy-wide, greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-
and-trade system and critical complementary measures to help address climate change and build a clean
energy economy (which the EPA helped create). My boss whispered into my ear while everyone was
congratulating each other, “This is why we do what we do.” Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate.
But the fact that it was able to pass in the House is a huge milestone and a signifier of the progress that
will happen. A progress I want to help shape.
During my internship at the EPA in the summer before I would begin my thesis, I sat in on
a meeting with one of my mentors where researchers were developing tools of analysis in order to
monitor the social vulnerability of populations who lived close to hazardous waste facilities. I had been
aware of the implications of environmental waste affecting these, many times racially disproportionate,
populations. The concern for environmental justice has been present for years, and previous legislature
has been made to help address the issue with the Environmental Justice Smart Assessment Tool
(EJSEAT). However, no previous study has measured whether the priorities and goals of the EPA are
reflected in the agency's completed work in California. Together, my mentor and I developed a project
that would not only benefit myself, but the division as well. I decided to use this as my thesis topic and
at the same time provided my mentor and the division with an analysis of their completed work.
At that first thesis seminar meeting, we were divided into groups to discuss potential thesis
topics. Hearing my peers discuss their fascinating and though-provoking theses (Cool Roofs in
California, The Impact of Water Conservation and Climate Change on Urban Water Demand,
A Comparison of Pollutant Emissions from a Traditional and an Improved Cookstove, etc.) made me
realize I made the right decision. Many of the hotbed issues of today’s world -- climate change, acid
rain, water pollution, hazardous waste, smog, rain forest destruction -- were all directly related to
environmental science and the policies that accompany them. I was finally at ease with my decision to
be on the policy side of science because I felt I could have a more direct impact on people’s lives than
being a PharmD.
I was fortunate enough to participate in a site visit to a hazardous waste facility in North
Richmond, CA. A standard visit is intended to monitor the progress of the remediation techniques
involved, whether they have been proven successful, and whether a hazardous waste site has been
completely cleaned up. The most poignant part of the trip was when I was introduced to the Ramirez
family who suffered from the toxic sulfur trioxide fumes first hand.
Though announcements were made to “shelter-in-place” after an accidental release as a result
of restarting the plant, it was of almost no use. This chronic exposure of breathing in fumes from the
neighboring refinery has led to the development of pediatric asthma in the Ramirez children. Their
working father, Joseph, now has cancer of the larynx. What may have been originally seen as a small
accident, will follow this family for life. These corporations and refineries, such as Chevron, make no
effort to adjust the policies to try and prevent future disasters. Instead, they choose to throw money
at the situation to cover it up, even offering newly-turned adults sums of money for “potential health
impacts.” Being a lawyer will help me defend the less fortunate, advocate for them, and even stop these
corporations from making donations to city programs supposedly benefiting the community, hoping it
will just give them further “permission to pollute.”
It is no doubt that this is one of the most dangerous places to live in the United States.
Unfortunately, moving out of North Richmond was not a viable option given their financial state of the
working-class family. Advocating for these “nimbies” is a necessary pursuit. It is the lack of access to
medical care, the language barriers, and the lack of financial resources and social or political support to
manage the issues that characterize the cause. Law school will help me to become an effective political
and legitimate agent of positive representation on a needed long-term basis. I am truly passionate
about this effort because of the environmental injustices caused by large corporations profiting at the
expense of innocent families such as this one. This cause has been a great part of my educational and
intellectual development as a mature adult. From research papers to real-life experiences, I would like
to pursue issues such as these, reinforcing the need of prioritizing remediation for those sites facing the
greatest social and public health concerns.
(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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