UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel, Green Impact, October 2018

Meet Rowena Eng, UCSF’s New Sustainability Coordinator

When it was time to hire a new sustainability coordinator, UCSF’s Office of Sustainability selected Rowena Eng from a pool of 80 applicants. Rowena brings a diverse background and skill set to the position, with an MS in Environmental Science and Management, a BS in Marine Sciences, laboratory research experience, and clinical research experience in a hospital setting. “This combination of experience is unique and exactly what we were looking for as we focus on opportunities for energy and waste reduction in research laboratory and UCSF Health sustainability projects,” expressed Gail Lee, UCSF’s Sustainability Director. “We immediately recognized her skill set as an ideal fit for the position.”

We met with Rowena during her first weeks at UCSF to ask her a few questions about herself and her thoughts on her new role. It turns out Rowena also felt that UCSF was an ideal fit for her. Some prior networking led her to learn about this role, which was just what she was seeking to pursue. Continue reading to learn more about why she makes such an excellent addition to the UCSF community.

What are you most looking forward to in your new position?
My top choice of career directions combines health care and the environment, so I am extremely excited and grateful for this opportunity. I am looking forward to applying my experience working in a cancer research lab and in a clinical setting to greening the medical center. I see a lot of opportunities for the labs and the medical center to experience a win-win situation in terms of achieving both waste reduction and cost savings, and I’m excited to support them in their sustainability efforts. It’s also exciting to have the chance to work with people from a variety of departments that may have different priorities but come together to align around the university’s sustainability goals.

How will your background in environmental science support your success in this role?
My studies in environmental science included strategic communication skills, like how to frame certain messages to engage an audience, which I think is useful for sustainability work. One project I worked on was engaging music festival attendees in waste sorting, where I learned to deliver messages in a fun and concise way to help them see the connection to the larger environment. I also think that my science research background, and the understanding of how collection and analysis inform design, will support me in being able to highlight sustainability projects. I have experience reviewing the science and distilling it down to be communicated to a wider audience

What inspired you to pursue sustainability work?
Many different things initially drew me to sustainability, such as my love of the natural environment and my interest in interdisciplinary fields. I’m from New York City, so I’ve always been aware of the intersection between people and the environment, which has led to an interest in the public health aspect of sustainability. I was always fascinated by the ocean as well, and my undergraduate studies in marine sciences helped me to see the connection between the ocean and what we put into the atmosphere. When field work allowed me to experience aquatic ecosystems close up, my appreciation of the natural world deepened, which created a concern for protecting it.

What are your thoughts on the connection between health care and sustainability?
I believe the mission of advancing healthcare involves making it more sustainable. If we are trying to promote healthy communities, we can’t do that without being environmental stewards. The upstream and downstream stages of health care should all be aligned to create healthy communities, and it’s important for health care sector to start thinking about its impacts. If more doctors can speak up about this connection, there is an opportunity to make a larger positive impact. Doctors are trusted, so this information would really hit home for patients coming from them. Additionally, many environmental regulations historically came about because of public health concerns. People respond to health concerns, so this can be leveraged to impact policy and push companies to be more sustainable.

Is there something we might be surprised to learn about you?
I once swam with a shark named Mo, who was rescued from a circus. This happened during a summer internship I had tagging nurse sharks. I would jump in the tank to take photos of the sharks’ swimming behaviors, and they were up to seven feet long! In the tank were also juvenile blacktip sharks – they were small, but still had sharp teeth! The scientist I was working with designed accelerometer tags to monitor sharks’ fine scale movements; the tags detect the orientation of sharks to learn what they are doing. This allows researchers to study their behaviors in the wild—like their mating rituals—without physically having to observe them, which is very difficult.

What is one action related to sustainability you would encourage the UCSF community to take?
I believe we are all here at UCSF because we care about helping people, and we can look at ways to do that on a broader scale. Even if we start with something small, it can add up to make a large impact. I think there is a misconception that sustainability is inconvenient, but it doesn’t have to be. Anything that people do could have a big impact on the environment, even just taking an extra few seconds to check that they’re putting their waste in the right bin.