Dr. Elvia Niebla - Soil Scientist
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As a child, I was always interested in outdoor life. I was the youngest of four brothers and sisters growing up in Nogales, Arizona. I was proud to attend my elementary school because my step-grandfather was the general contractor who helped build it. Science became my favorite subject. In junior high and high school, I had to make an important decision that would affect the rest of my life. I was advised not to continue taking science and mathematics classes because knowing mathematics and science wouldnít be necessary to be a secretary or Spanish teacher-the two traditional careers of a Hispanic female in the 1960ís. I wanted to go to college and become a scientist! I enjoyed my science courses, and I was doing well in them. When I talked with my parents, they urged me to continue taking science and mathematics. They told me that whatever I decided to do, they would support my choice. I continued taking mathematics and science classes. One of my high school teachers even took time after school to teach me calculus. I attended junior college before I went to the University of Arizona. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology/ chemistry, a masterís degree in education, and a Ph.D. in soil chemistry.

As a soil scientist, I worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I studied the effects of chemicals on the ground. In particular, I worked with sludge. Sludge may look and feel like slimy mud, but it smells awful. Sludge is what is left over after garbage decomposes. Believe it or not, sludge contains nutrients that the ground needs to help make plants grow. Sludge is sometimes spread on the land where farmers plant their crops. One project that I worked on dealt with the amount of poisons such as lead, in industrial sludge. Using mathematics, I described several pathways by which humans could get poisoned by sludge. For example, if there is even a small amount of arsenic in sludge that is spread on the ground, the arsenic would be passed on to the grass. The arsenic could pass into cows when they eat the grass. Then, if those cows were slaughtered and made into hamburger, a human eating the meat would get arsenic poisoning. The US EPA put me in charge of writing the regulations for the use of sludge on agricultural land, to help prevent the poisons in sludge from reaching humans. When I became the national coordinator for the Global Change Research Program (GCRP), I continued working with environmental issues. I help decide what needs to be done so that we can study how the changes of the earth affect trees, animals, forests, acid rain, and ozone. One year, I decided how to distribute $25,000,000 to scientists and the science projects they proposed. When the results of the environmental research are given to me, I use them to help advise politicians making the rules for the usage of land. I also represent the United States at international environmental conferences.

My advice is that you should pursue your interests no matter what they are. Donít be dissuaded by the obstacles and disbelievers that you will encounter. If you are dedicated to your dreams, you will always find a way to accomplish them.


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