Save the Date for our Centennial Celebration (2020-2021).
The official kick-off begins fall 2020. Our centennial celebration will be April 10, 2021.

Please help us keep in touch with you by completing your information here.

Be sure to follow our Centennial Celebration Facebook event.
ESE Alumni: Join the UNC ESE Alumni Private Facebook Group and connect with your colleagues.

The official logo of ESE's Centennial celebration

A message from the Chair, Dr. Barbara Turpin

Environmental Sciences and Engineering: A century of environmental solutions to public health problems and a commitment to build public health resilience to climate and environmental change

While I write this message, I am sheltering in place to help slow the spread of a deadly virus and writing interdisciplinary proposals to better understand its environmental transmission. This work is uniquely possible at a place like Gillings, where engineering, science and public health are found together, and where health equity has always been a central part of our mission.

Read more.

Increasingly, the faculty and students of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (ESE) are responding to, planning for, and working to mitigate new and evolving public health threats – that oftentimes have a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities. Some of these threats include viruses transported by airborne particles, hazardous agents in contaminated floodwaters, antibiotic resistance, air pollution exposures from drought-enabled wildfires, changes in water availability in low-income countries, extreme weather-impacts on the financial health of local water districts and exposures to legacy and emerging contaminants.

Climate change will drive future challenges.  As we approach ESE’s centennial, we celebrate tremendous environmental achievements and recognize the urgent need to mitigate and respond to the pressing challenges posed by global change.  WHO lists climate change as the #1 threat to global health in 2019; environmental change is an important driver of WHO’s top five identified threats.  Notably, public health protection is central to all five pressing challenges identified in the National Academies (NRC) report on Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century.  The projected impacts of climate change and antibiotic resistance on human health are expected to be particularly widespread and severe.  Climate change brings droughts, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather events, which in turn impact air pollution, water availability and quality, toxic releases, food and nutrition, infectious and non-communicable diseases, and will increase migration and conflict pressure and exacerbate health inequities.

We will need integrated and holistic solutions.  If anything, the past decade has shown that stove-piped responses will not deliver the long-term, sustainable results we need.  Engineering solutions to household water service provision, for example, must be done within the broader context of a one-health approach to providing a disease-free living environment if we are to meaningfully reduce water-related diseases.  As environmental scientists and engineers located within the top public school of public health, ESE is ideally positioned to provide holistic, intersectoral responses to mitigate and prepare for the pressing environmental challenges (e.g., by characterizing susceptible populations, characterizing and prioritizing health risks, examining energy policy options with co-benefits for health, engaging communities to improve resilience, and designing next-generation technologies).  Thus, on the occasion of our centennial, while we celebrate a century of environmental solutions to public health problems, we affirm our commitment to build public health resilience to climate and environmental change.

ESE – a history of leadership. Our work today builds on ESE’s long tradition of local and global impact.  We are the nation’s first engineering department in a school of public health.  We enrolled our first Sanitary Engineering master’s student, Roy Jay Morton, under Thorndike Saville in the fall of 1920, when there was a pronounced need to improve water safety in the towns and cities of North Carolina. ESE was a founding department of UNC’s School of Public Health (1940) under Herman Baity.  Within the first 50 years of our history, international aid organizations were sending students from several continents to be educated by the department, and an estimated 25% of graduates were addressing water and sanitation challenges in international health organizations and foreign governments, including African and Latin American countries (based on a survey of graduates in 1971).  Three of the first four Directors of Environmental Health at the World Health Organization were our alumni. Under the leadership of Dan Okun (1955-1973) and continuing under Russell Christman (1973-1989), ESE became a truly interdisciplinary department, providing a quantitative education in environmental sciences and engineering, with substantial faculty expertise spanning sciences, engineering, management and policy domains in air, water and industrial hygiene.  The department’s current name was adopted in 1962 and William Glaze (1989-1997) added faculty in the health sciences.

Building the next generation of leaders.  Today, ESE has over 2000 practicing alumni.  Our graduates take with them an integrated, interdisciplinary, quantitative, mechanistic education that links health risks back to sources.  They are engaged in efforts to improve environmental quality locally and globally, including through technological innovation, effective environmental policies, research and community engagement.  We have an internationally recognized faculty in air pollution, environmental health sciences, climate change and health, global water policy, infectious disease and microbiology, environmental chemistry, transport, and engineering.  We are home to UNC’s Water InstituteCenter on Financial Risk in Environmental Systems, the Institute for Environmental Health Solutions, and participate in UNC’s strong university-wide environmental and climate change communities.  Since its founding, the Gillings School of Global Public Health has been a consistent advocate for health equity locally and globally.

We are particularly proud of our students and alumni and plan to share their stories over the course of ESE’s centennial year.  For this, we need your help.  Send us your stories and your successes through the link below.  Help us make you part of our history!

We hope you will join us for the Centennial kick-off in fall 2020 and our main celebration on April 10, 2021.  Please check back in for centennial celebration details, and update your contact information.  See you there!

Barbara J Turpin

About our Department

Case Statement logoWho we are
The Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health is the first of its kind based in a school of public health. This position gives us a unique focus on the interface between people and the environment. We offer interdisciplinary programs – in air quality and atmospheric processes, human exposure and health effects, safe and sustainable water resources, climate change and One Health – that draw on faculty expertise in the physical and life sciences, engineering, economics and policy.

Read more.

Our work to respond to, plan for and mitigate new and evolving environmental threats within the broader context of a One Health approach creates solutions that build on the department’s 100-year tradition of local and global impact. Through innovative research, education and training, ESE faculty and students will continue to discover and implement solutions for air and water quality and public health protection.

With the distinction of being the nation’s top public school of public health, the Gillings School has a special responsibility to prepare the world’s next public health leaders. Our students follow in the footsteps of influential alumni from decades past. To remain a leader and continue to push boundaries, we must support our students by offering both innovative educational opportunities and the financial resources to pursue them. Our ESE students are creative problem solvers, uniquely prepared to design and implement effective environmental health solutions.

Our Focus
Text reads Impacts of Climate Change on Air, Water and HealthClimate change will drive future challenges. As we approach ESE’s centennial, we celebrate tremendous environmental achievements and recognize the urgent need to mitigate and respond to the pressing challenges posed by global change. WHO lists climate change as the #1 threat to global health in 2019. Climate change brings droughts, floods, heatwaves and extreme weather events, which in turn impact air pollution, water availability and quality, toxic releases, food and nutrition, infectious and non-communicable diseases, and will increase migration and conflict pressure and exacerbate health inequities. We work to understand the effects of climate change on health and to develop policy options for climate change mitigation and adaptation with co-benefits for health.

Text reads Engineering a sustainable future.Our work today builds on ESE’s long tradition of local and global impact. We are the nation’s first engineering department in a school of public health and we enrolled our first Sanitary Engineering master’s student, Roy Jay Morton, under Thorndike Saville in the fall of 1920, when there was a pronounced need to improve water safety in the towns and cities of North Carolina. Our focus on engineering has not wavered in the last 100 years as we seek to design solutions for environmental and public health protection using a variety of computational, experimental, and field approaches. Our research and substantive policy guidance move us closer to a sustainable future.

Text reads Toxic Exposures and Vulnerable PopulationsOur faculty study the range of processes that ultimately lead to environmentally-related diseases, from characterizing and quantifying human exposure to understanding the cellular, molecular and biochemical underpinnings of these diseases. Environmentally-driven disease is influenced by various complex factors including exposure to environmental toxicants and pollutants in both air and water, individual differences in genetic and epigenetic susceptibility, and nutrition.

Text reads Emerging Air and Water Contaminants and Infectious AgentsThreats to environmental and human health are continuously evolving. Thus, the study of emerging contaminants (e.g., PFAS) and infectious agents (e.g., COVID-19), play a major role in the health and safety of future populations. Major departmental research activities include: developing methods to measure and monitor chemical or microbial contaminants; ascertaining the linkages between sources and exposures; developing/using models to design effective exposure reduction strategies; and elucidating the genetic factors that lead to differences in disease outcomes among individuals or populations.

How you can help
Text reads Transforming the Student Experience.At this pivotal time, we call on ESE alumni and friends to recognize and celebrate our Centennial Celebration by partnering with our school and department to move environmental solutions forward. Funding opportunities listed below are a snapshot of ways in which an investment will impact our students for the next 100 years.

The Centennial Scholarship Fund
Supported through pooled funding from alumni and friends, The Centennial Scholarship is designed to support one student annually whose research project pushes the boundaries of research in air, water, or environmental health, as determined by a faculty committee nominated by the department chair. The scholarship offers financial assistance for tuition, travel, practicum experiences, living expenses, or other pressing needs to support the student’s research and course work. Overtime, we hope The Centennial Scholarship will grow to cover full cost of tuition and expenses, making it one of the premier awards offered by the Gillings School.

Individual named master’s and doctoral scholarship and fellowship endowments
Ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 in annual assistance for one or more graduate students to cover such costs as research, national or global travel, projects, practicum experiences, dissertation, stipends and other key needs. Endowed scholarship and fellowship opportunities from a $100,000 – $1,250,000 investment allow the department to pursue highly competitive students who are actively recruited by peer institutions. Preferences on qualifying criteria are available.

FIRE Grants
A $5,000 award supports undergraduate students during the summer, preparing them for a lab setting and future research in master’s and doctoral programs. By partnering with the Chancellor Scholars Program, these FIRE Grants create a pipeline for science careers and encourage first- and second-year minority students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics and environmental science fields.

EQUIP Labs
With a goal to promote undergraduate involvement in team and community-engaged research, EQUIP labs make ESE more visible to prospective UNC undergraduates and help us to recruit top undergraduate students into ESE’s BSPH program. $10,000 underwrites the needs of five students during an academic year.

For our Present and Future
Our graduates take with them an integrated, interdisciplinary, quantitative and experiential education that links environmental threats to impacts and enables the development of creative and effective solutions. They engage in efforts to improve environmental quality locally and globally – through technological innovation, effective environmental policies, research, and community engagement. Our faculty are internationally recognized for their work in air pollution, environmental health sciences, climate change and health, global water policy, infectious disease and microbiology, exposure science, environmental chemistry, transport and engineering.

By partnering with us, you can help Gillings School continue to deliver results for a sustainable and healthy future. To learn more about how your philanthropy can impact Environmental Sciences and Engineering students, please email Matt Cain, Senior Director of Development, at mattcain@unc.edu.

The Kickoff has Begun! Save the Date for our next Webinars

Flyer for John Bachman webinar

Select image to download the event flyer.

October 1, 9:30 a.m. EST (Zoom)
The Circle Game: Evaluating a Half Century of U.S. Programs for Criteria Air Pollutants
Dr. John Bachmann, Former Associate Director for Science Policy and New Programs for EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards in Research Triangle Park, NC
Register online.


Flyer for Ku McMahan webinar

Select image to download the event flyer.

November 10, 9:30 a.m. EST (Zoom)
Resilience at the Water-Food-Energy Nexus: New Challenges and New Solutions

Dr. Lanakila “Ku” McMahan, team lead for Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development at the United States Agency for International Development
Register online.

Past Webinars

September 3, 2020
Environmental Justice in North Carolina (Watch on YouTube.)
Chandra Taylor, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center
Adjunct Professor, UNC School of Law

August 18, 2020
The Environment: Saving Ourselves from Ourselves (Watch on YouTube.)
View presentation slides (PDF)
Dan Costa, PhD, ESE Adjunct Professor
Former National Research Program Director for Air, Climate and Energy Research Program
US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Research Triangle Park (RTP)


Celebrating Student and Alumni Stories

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, we asked students and alumni to share stories about how their involvement in the program made an impact on their education and careers. Each month we will be highlighting a student and an alumnus who are connected by a shared experience while studying at UNC.
More stories can be found on the Celebrating Student and Alumni Stories page.

David Gorelick

David Gorelick

David Gorelick (doctoral student)

I came to UNC as an undergraduate in 2011. Truthfully, I was dead set on leaving North Carolina after high school, but after visiting Chapel Hill and meeting with Greg Gangi in the Environment and Ecology Program, I felt that this would be a good place for me! Almost nine years and nearly three UNC degrees later, it was obviously the right choice.

What I appreciate most about UNC is the breadth of topics courses available to us, especially as graduate students. Being exposed to that range of subjects has already had a beneficial impact on my research and pushed me to explore different career options than I thought I would when I enrolled.

In the future, I hope to be doing work in natural resources that influences policy, either directly through legislation, applied research or teaching.


Joe Brown

Dr, Joe Brown

Joe Brown (’07 PhD and current faculty)

The friendly, collaborative, positive atmosphere set UNC apart from other programs I considered at Cornell, Yale, Columbia, UT Austin, and UC Berkeley. I wanted to do great work in a positive environment of collaborative excellence. Drs. Mark Sobsey and Greg Characklis were two faculty influences, and the student services office representatives – including Jack Whaley and CL Lassiter – both played important roles in presenting a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Other graduate students also helped me feel welcome.

I never deviated from the trajectory in academia that I established at UNC. I learned what academic collaboration looks like and the importance of having a rich scholarly community to support the development of great scientists. Now I am on the faculty in ESE and conducting research at the intersection of engineering and public health.

The training I received at UNC was absolutely essential to all of the work I do now in my research, teaching and service. It exposed me to an atmosphere of excellence and a deep commitment for improving human well-being. The program is unique in its scope and is globally recognized for sustaining excellent research and training opportunities for environmental scientists and engineers who are working on some of the most critical problems in public health.

We Want to Hear from You

Please send us your stories and more by completing our Centennial Survey.
Submit your ESE photos here.

Questions? Email ESE_Centennial@unc.edu.