Save the Date for our Centennial Celebration (2020-2021).
The official kick-off begins fall 2020. Our centennial celebration will be April 2021.
The official logo of ESE's Centennial celebration

Request to Alumni from the ESE Chair

Dear Colleagues,

Please note that the department will celebrate its Centennial in 2020-2021, beginning with a kick-off event in fall 2020 and culminating in an alumni reunion weekend and main event on April 5-9, 2021. I hope that you will keep us informed of any email address changes, so we can share details when they become available. We look forward to your participation and hope you will spread the word! Check out our Centennial webpage regularly for information and updates.

Also, please help us keep in touch with you by filling out the information here, and read our latest department newsletter.

Finally, be sure to follow our Centennial Facebook event and join the UNC ESE Alumni Private Facebook Group.

Barbara Turpin, PhD
Chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Gillings School of Global Public Health

COVID-19: Share Your Story

At the Gillings School, we are putting public health into action every day. That action is important now more than ever. Are you a student, researcher or practitioner working on the coronavirus pandemic response? Share your story with us.

Alumni Spotlight

ESE Alumni Receive awards at the 2019 American Water Works Association (AWWA) Annual Conference and Exhibition

David Reckhow, PhD, received the AP Black Research Award to recognize outstanding research contributions to water science and water supply rendered over an appreciable period of time

John Young, MSEE, received the Abel Wolman Award to recognize those whose careers in the waterworks industry exemplify vision, creativity, and excellent professional performance characteristic of Abel Wolman’s long and productive career.

Des Lawler, PhD, received the Dr. John L. Leal Award. The Dr. John L. Leal Award is presented annually for distinguished service to the water profession in commemoration of the sound medical/public health expertise and the courageous leadership advancing public health that characterized the life of Dr. John L. Leal.

Eight individuals with UNC connections have received the AP Black Award since its inception in 1967: Faculty (Russ Christman, Charles O’Melia, Philip Singer, Francis DiGiano, Mark Sobsey) and 3 alumni (James Edzwald, Desmond Lawler, David Reckhow). Five individuals with UNC connections have received the Abel Wolman Award since its inception in 1985 (Dan Okun, Charles O’Melia, Philip Singer, James Edzwald, John Young).  

2021 ESE Distinguished Alumnus

David E. Pinsky, P.E.

David Pinsky, P.E. (ESE, MSEE, 1983)

From 2006 through 2018, David Pinsky served as President and CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tighe & Bond. In this role he was responsible for company vision, strategy, and growth, including the development and implementation of the firm’s strategic plan and business plan.

In January 2019, as part of a two-year succession plan, Dave stepped down as President and CEO. He continues to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors. Under his leadership, Tighe and Bond has grown to nearly 400 employees spread across five states and nine offices, and has also been named by the Engineering News Record (ENR) as one of New England’s top 10 design firms, as well as being listed among the top 200 design firms nationwide.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Dave has provided service to both his community and profession through his activities as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, as a trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

The Awards Committee of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering seeks nominations for its Distinguished Alumni Award in January each year. This award has honored 33 individuals since its inception 24 years ago. Many graduates of ESE have had noteworthy careers and are deserving of recognition.

Read more about previous award recipients
Margaret (Peggy) Layne, Walter Lynn, David McNelis, Pat Mulholland, Ray Oglesby, Rob Shimp, K. Hosny Mancy, Anthony (Terry) Rolan, Billy Turner, Brian Ramaley, James Edzwald, David Johnson, Des Lawler, Greg Allgood, Alan Rimer, John Young, Virginia S. Houk, Marjorie Aelion, Doug Owen, Charles Rodes, Pete Kolsky, Leonard A. Smock, Gerald Speitel, and Stephen Morse, M. Katherine Banks (flyer), Chris Schulz, Andrea Dietrich, Grace Robinson Hyde (flyer), Marla Smith-Nilson, Hua Wang, Jian Zhen Yu.

Get Involved

  • Stay connected through the Well Connected Online Community, a password-secure online directory that allows you to update your contact information and connect with other Gillings alumni.
  • Attend an ESE event or seminar
  • Participate in the ESE Alumni/Student ‘Ment/Net’ event held annually in April
  • Subscribe to receive emails about external Job Postings (click “show more” and find envr_jobpostings)
  • Subscribe to receive emails about ESE Seminars (click “show more” envr_seminars)
  • Support the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering
  • Submit your own alumni update to be posted below: Send your degree, graduation year, and where you are now (position title, location, activities) to
  • Submit your own alumni story to be featured below: Send your our degree, graduation year, and where you are now (position title, location, activities); a brief summary or story* about what inspired you to choose your degree/career/UNC; and a high resolution photo to: *please use first person

Alumni Updates

Leiran Biton, MS (2007)
Air Quality Modeler (Physical Scientist)
US EPA-New England Region, Boston, MA

Nicole Hagan, PhD (2014)
Health Scientist, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, US EPA (RTP)

Elizabeth D. Hilborn, RN, DVM, MPH, Dipl. ACVPM
MPH (1994)
Health Scientist (Epidemiologist), US EPA (Chapel Hill)

Cassandra O’Lenick, PhD
MS (2008)
Postdoctoral Researcher
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Boulder, CO

Alumni Features

Chang Zai Kang

Chang Zai Kang

Kang Chang (MS 2011)
Innovation Advisor at RTI International in RTP, North Carolina

Through the completion of my MS as one of the first students at the Water Institute, I saw the need for better systems of learning, private-sector skills and human-centric design in the world of international development.

Read more about Kang

In the years following UNC, I worked at a social entrepreneurship research institute to gain a more complete picture of the challenges facing international development. I soon saw the role of innovation and innovation management as being a crucial skillset to create meaningful interventions, support organizational learning and provide a systematic way of creative problem-solving. Since then, I have focused my career on supporting organizational and regional innovation capacity building. In my current role, I support universities, governments and corporations through strategic advising, innovation training and innovation ecosystem development.

Mark Barnett

Mark Barnett, PhD, PE, BCEE

Mark Barnett, PhD, PE, BCEE
PhD (1998)
Professor of Environmental Engineering and Associate Chair
Department of Civil Engineering
Auburn University

I tell my undergraduate engineering students that it’s hard to go wrong with a master’s degree, but a Ph.D. is a longer, tougher slog with a less certain outcome.
Read more about Professor Barnett

Nonetheless, despite the long, tough slog, my North Carolina Ph.D. has afforded me many opportunities that I otherwise would not have had. First of all, I hold a reasonably prestigious, secure, and well-paying job as a tenured professor. Being a university professor is a great job, and no two days are the same. I get to work on a college campus and live in a college town. Other than a few hours a week when I have classes, my schedule is very flexible.

In addition to the other rewards of teaching and research, I have gotten to do many other things that I otherwise would not have gotten to do, including consulting, testifying, serving on government panels, and seeing most of the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

One of the most personally and professionally rewarding times of my life was living with my young family for five months in the Netherlands while I was on sabbatical, fulfilling a life-long dream of living and working in Europe.

Finally, seeing your former students graduate, mature, and become leaders in their profession is very rewarding.

Rory Polera

Rory Polera, MSEE

Rory Polera
MSEE (2009)
Field Engineer
Oasys Water
Cambridge, MA

What inspired me to choose my major was both a profound appreciation for the environment coupled with ensuring our basic public health needs are existent and preserved.
Read more about Rory

Between traveling to South America during undergrad and doing a series of undergraduate research programs in water/wastewater research areas, I started to appreciate the complex and interdisciplinary nature of environmental engineering work. Dynamic ecosystems of water, air and soil have kept me on my toes continuously learning throughout the past 10+ years.

From summer undergraduate research programs at VT and semester research at Illinois, I started to build a foundation on water-related research areas, focuses and needs. From there I attended UNC and continued my research interests.

In between my two years at UNC, I was granted a fellowship to take my research to Perth, Australia as part of the NSF EAPSI program – an incredible program to say the least.

Upon graduation, I moved on to work for GE in their EHS division focusing on corporate environmental issues/affairs, appreciating a different approach in environmental protection through industrial manufacturing and service operations.

Today, as a field engineer for Oasys Water, I have transitioned back to my educational roots working at an exciting startup deploying forward osmosis based desalination systems globally, treating some of the dirtiest and most challenging industrial wastewaters in power generation and oil and gas markets. I have worked on running pilot tests in the US and commissioning full-scale demonstration plants in China.

As my career continues to evolve, my educational roots mixed with various skillsets and my passions have been critical in shaping my career as it is today.

Hannah Gordon Leker

Hannah Gordon Leker, BSPH, MSPH

Hannah Gordon Leker
BSPH (2013), MSPH (2015)
Public Health Policy Analyst
Maryland Department of Health

After completing her MSPH, Hannah became interested in the role of policy as a link between research and its practical application in society.
Read more about Hannah

In 2016, she was a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine where she worked with the Gulf Research Program and learned more about the links between science and policy.
In her current role as a public health policy analyst for the Maryland Department of Health, Hannah drafts reports and updates public health regulations for the State of Maryland. She facilitates conversations between public health subject matter experts, Department leadership, and legal experts. She also identifies bills of public health importance and drafts position papers on their public health impact during the legislative session. As a public health policy analyst, she enjoys working on a wide variety of public health topics and learning first-hand about how state-level public health policies are created.

Lars Perlmutt

Lars Perlmutt, PhD

Lars Perlmutt, PhD
MSPH (2009)
Health Scientist
Office of Air and Radiation, US EPA (RTP)

I continue to be inspired by my late father, Louis, who, as a physician, was a strong proponent of bringing healthcare to rural areas of North Carolina.
Read more about Lars

My love of science, weather, and a desire to help the most susceptible and vulnerable populations led me to pursue an Environmental Studies degree as an undergraduate at UNC (class of 2003) and focus more specifically on the health effects of air pollution while pursuing an MSPH in Environmental Health Sciences (class of 2009) at UNC SPH. Through work at the US EPA on topics associated with exposure science and environmental justice, I ultimately decided to pursue a PhD in Environmental Health Sciences, where I recently finished at New York University (class of 2015). The desire to protect and improve public health has stuck with me, which is exactly why I enjoy my current position back at the US EPA as a Health Scientist in Air Quality Policy.