Meet ORAU Employee Grace Kaupas. Grace is a contractor providing administrative support at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the National Student Services Contract. As an NSSC contractor, Grace has been working in the Office of Research and Development, Center for Public Health and Environmental Assessment, Chemical and Pollutant Assessment Division (CPAD) in Washington, D.C. Her daily activities vary widely including conducting systematic literature reviews, citing literature, creating presentations, doing technical editing, and organizing meetings.
Grace began her work at the EPA by co-leading the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Statute and Regulatory Applicability Project with her mentor Dahnish Shams. This project seeks to illuminate how EPA’s heath assessments are used to support policy and regulatory decisions within the EPA. She spent the first 6-8 months in her position reviewing every Superfund Record of Decision (ROD) issued since 2015, and built a database to catalogue them. This became one of her favorite projects due to the free reign she had in directing the project and building the database. She presented the project at an all-scientists meeting in August 2020.
Grace leads the effort to collect and analyze public meeting and workshop attendance data (e.g., stakeholder participation analysis) for EPA’s quarterly Health and Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) Research Program. She is also the Systematic Review Community of Practice (SRCP) coordinator. The monthly SRCP gathers 200+ staff from across the EPA to listen to talks. She participates in several other initiatives like the CPAD Student Volunteer Initiative where graduate students learn how to use literature review software. Grace is currently working on a title abstract screening using DistillerRS to find every study involving aerosolized transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
While Grace was working with CPAD, she realized how much she enjoyed being at the EPA. Her teammates were very kind, supportive, and she always felt appreciated. This in part led her to pursue a permanent position at the EPA. “Dahnish Shams, who is my mentor, is just amazing. A phenomenal mentor. I don’t think you would ever go to another job where he is helping you write your resume letter to go to a different job.” She began applying to every open science related position at EPA. Her efforts paid off. Soon Grace will be moving to the building next door, to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), Data Gathering and Analysis Division where she will be doing systematic literature reviews. “I am so excited for it. I will finally have the title of biologist, which seem surreal.”
Grace’s first real biology class in high school with Ms. Hewitt had her hooked on science. “She changed my life.” She was a Virginia Space Coast Scholar where she participated in a program with NASA. Then she did a summer internship at Old Dominion University where she worked with Dr. Victoria Hill studying chlorophyll and color-dissolved organic material in the Arctic Ocean. “She was one of the coolest people I had ever met.” Dr. Hill’s stories of her North Pole initiation really inspired Grace. “I wanted that life. That sounds amazing.” If she had any doubts before, after her internship Grace decided she was pursuing a science degree. She attended University of Virginia. While at university she worked in a neurobiology lab studying maggots. “It wasn’t the most glamorous job, but it was definitely an entertaining lab.” She became more interested in environmental science and took several ecology and environmentally focused classes. After graduating (in only three years!) with a degree in biology, she got a data analysis internship as a Conservation Fellow with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Once that internship wrapped, she knew she wanted to continue working in the environmental space and began looking for a position at the EPA.
Outside the lab, Grace is a pet-parent to an adorable Shih Tzu named Oreo. Grace has painted several portraits of Oreo. She loves to paint and does so almost every day. She paints for friends and family, and even takes on commission painting. She mostly works with acrylic, but in the last year has branched out to watercolor. Grace is passionate about painting and she shares her paintings on Instagram at @graces