Mapping out the future of communities
A Penn alumnus at the forefront of environmental justice
“Far too often our poor or minority communities bear the brunt of the nation’s ecological harms,” shares Matthew Lee (Master of Environmental Studies ’08). Matt is an Environmental Protection Specialist in the Office of Enforcement Compliance and Environmental Justice with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
To address these issues, Matt and his team at the EPA just launched a geographic information system (GIS) tool called EJSCREEN. The program combines environmental indicators with demographic data to identify areas that may be experiencing the most overburdened harm from pollution and other hazards.
“Before we go out to neighborhood meetings, we can learn a lot about the group in advance through EJSCREEN. That ultimately helps us involve people in their community’s decisions.”
Though Matt grew up exploring the woods and fields of Montgomery, NJ, he first became interested in the social justice side of environmentalism during his undergraduate studies at the University of Delaware. After completing a BS in Agriculture and Natural Resources, he applied to a handful of graduate environmental studies programs and chose Penn.
“I loved the autonomy that the Master of Environmental Studies (MES) gave me to take different classes and avenues of study. I dove into Environmental Law at the Law School, Environmental Management at Wharton and GIS in Urban Studies. To have all of Penn at my disposal was incredible.”
One of Matt’s most impactful courses was Communicating About the Environment. “The majority of the writing I had done up to that point was very science and research based. That class changed my perspective and taught me about writing in a journalistic style that makes people care about the issue.”
Today, Matt’s job with the EPA centers on just that—encouraging people to care about their local environment through the use of technology and education. Matt fields 80-90 citizen tips per month through the EPA’s Tip & Complaint reporting tool, many of which lead to direct changes and enforcement on communities. “Those tips help us get a pulse for what’s going on in the region. We get to hear from members of the community on the front line. They can sense before we can when something is going wrong.”
When Matt isn’t keeping track of Region 3 (PA, DE, MD, WV, VA, DC), he keeps busy with his two young children in Haddon Township, NJ. Working in the city hasn’t thwarted his love of the great outdoors—you can find Matt fly fishing with his best buddies on weekends.
Looking back on his long tenure with the EPA he recalls, “The GIS experience that I got at Penn via the MES program is one of the main reasons that I got a job at the EPA.” Through his experiences in school and in the field, every day Matt exercises his belief that, “Everyone should have the same access to clean air and water.”
Now in its 20th year, the Master of Environmental Studies at the University of Pennsylvania prepares students like Matt to become leaders in the environmental field—from careers in the federal government to public policy and beyond.
“I’m a big kid getting paid to play in the mud,” laughs Mike McGraw (Master of Environmental Studies ’15), the passionate Senior Wildlife Biologist and Ecologist and the PA Branch Manager for Applied Ecological Services.
“If you interviewed me last year, I would have said I wanted to go to med school. Now, after being exposed to so much at Penn, I know my calling is in global work,” shares Akudo Ejelonu.