Alumni Profile: Paul J. Fitzgerald, MSPH
Laboratory Director, Prism Laboratories, Charlotte, N.C.
Describe your current position. What is your research/focus area?
I manage a privately owned laboratory, with 31 employees. We provide analytical chemistry services, with a focus on environmental testing.
List your career highlights. Please include links to news articles or press releases, if any.
I was the quality assurance officer for Duke Energy’s laboratory in Huntersville, North Carolina, for several years. We were one of the first laboratories in the country to gain accreditation in the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP).
After supervising the inorganic department for several years, I was recently promoted to lab director at Prism Laboratories.
What inspired you to pursue a degree in public health? How did you get started?
My father was a member of the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and he would share with me articles in the journal about how my courses in chemistry applied to water and wastewater treatment.
My years in the Boy Scouts helped to develop my interest in environmental issues. When I completed my chemistry degree, I knew I wanted to apply it in the area of environmental chemistry.
Why did you choose the Gillings School?
One of my chemistry professors had done post-graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chemistry Department. When my professor heard I was interested in environmental chemistry, he told me to check out the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health because it had an excellent environmental chemistry program. I came down from Connecticut in March of 1979 to visit and loved the school and the weather (60 degrees and sunny!). I knew it was what I was looking for.
In thinking about your time as a student, what experiences at the Gillings School would you consider to have had the greatest impact on your career?
I worked with Brian Dempsey, during the summer prior to my first semester at the Gillings School, on his PhD research. I had the opportunity to not only participate in research, but I also got experience with flame atomic absorption spectroscopy. My own master’s program research included collection of samples along the Ogeechee River estuary in Georgia. My experience with trace-metals analysis and sample collection helped me get my first job at Duke Energy.
During my career, I have been able to utilize knowledge I gained from courses in environmental law, trace metals in the environment, wastewater engineering and biostatistics.
What are some of your favorite memories at the Gillings School?
Collecting samples along the Ogeechee River for our research was a highlight. I also enjoyed our trip to the swamps and marshes of eastern North Carolina for a wetlands ecology class.
What are you passionate about in public health?
I am passionate about clean drinking water and educating people about what makes water safe and unsafe. There are a lot of misconceptions about drinking water.
What advice you would like to offer to current the Gillings School students?
Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn and gain new experiences. Look for opportunities to collaborate with others outside of your area of experience.
What would you say to prospective students thinking about studying at the Gillings School?
The Gillings School is a world-class institution, with brilliant minds that will challenge you in every class and in your research. Plus, the climate and the basketball are excellent too!
Please name topics and focus areas on which you can offer advice to current Gillings School students:
I can offer advice on chemical analysis of environmental samples, résumé writing and interviewing.
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