During the cleanup of a Superfund (hazardous waste) site located along the Colorado Front Range, a local employee of a private company contracted by the U.S. Department of Energy began setting off radiation security alarms when entering the facility. After months of investigation to determine the source of this radiation, it was discovered that the drinking water from the individual's private well was so highly contaminated with radon that simply showering with the water left enough radiation on his body to trigger the alarms.
It was this incident that inspired my dissertation study, Radon-Contaminated Drinking Water from Private Wells: An Environmental Health Assessment Examining a Rural Colorado Mountain Community's Exposure. The purpose was to identify and evaluate the potential extreme occurrence of naturally occurring radon contamination in private well water sources in one rural mountain community.
This past November, I had the great honor of participating in two presentations at the 141st annual American Public Health Association (APHA) Conference in Boston and having my dissertation research recognized as one of the top newsworthy studies at the conference. In addition to presenting my research to executive-level health officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, my research was also published in the November issue of the Journal of Environmental Health as well as covered by various local media and social media outlets. These experiences have been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined and nothing short of amazing! Knowing that other professionals in my field are interested in my research and want to help disseminate the information has been a very humbling and fulfilling experience.
Probably the best parts of this experience, however, are the positive social change that has occurred within the rural community that was studied. This research is now being used to educate both individuals and public health officials of the potential occurrence and related health consequences of radon-contaminated drinking water from private wells.
Another great benefit from presenting at the APHA conference was that I was given the opportunity to speak to current Walden PhD in Public Health students at one of their professional residency sessions. At the session a student asked me, “What advice would you give to students on how to draw attention to their research?”
First, never underestimate the value that can be placed on your dedication to social change. Throughout my doctoral education (mostly when discussing my research with individuals outside of Walden), I was often told that this project would not be a comprehensive study or that it would not be adequate for a dissertation project. Now, after national recognition and publication, I am glad I didn’t take that to heart.
Second, try to get your research as much exposure as you can. It may not take off on the initial efforts, but keep trying. I initially presented this research at a local conference and pitched it to several key individuals, but not much came out of it. In fact, I think only a few people showed up to my conference presentation. However, knowing that this information was valuable and needed to be recognized, I pressed on to get it published and sought the opportunity to present it nationally. Don’t give up.
Last, keep in touch and continue to work with your dissertation committee—don’t let it end after the oral defense! Much of my continued success with this study has come from the ongoing support and guidance of my committee.
Read local media coverage of Dr. Cappello's research here:
Northeast Colorado Health Department's Dr. Cappello Receiving National Recognition for Radon Research
Sterling Journal-Advocate (Colo.), November 7, 2013