Sharine Wittkopp Getting to the Heart of the Air Pollution Dilemma

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Sharine Wittkopp, a doctoral student in environmental toxicology has been recognized with the Stanley Behrens Public Impact Fellowship for her work on genetic expression associations with air pollution. She particularly studies how the genes we inherit might change the way our bodies respond to the pollution in the air we breathe.

Her findings contribute to the growing body of knowledge describing the relationship between air pollution exposure and cardiovascular disease.   “I hope that an awareness of this problem will help strengthen policies designed to decrease emissions and reduce exposure-associated heart disease risk,” says Sharine.

The Stanley Behrens Public Impact Fellowship has allowed Sharine to focus solely on her research and to present her work at the American Heart Association conference in March.  “Sharing research with the community is the ultimate goal for any researcher and this award has supported my efforts to do just that,” she says.

Not only has this honor been financially beneficial, but it has also reinforced her dedication to her field.  “It has boosted my motivation for the final push to getting my degree and encouraged me to continue working on this important research,” says Sharine.  “This award has given me the opportunity to network with other outstanding researchers here at UC Irvine. It has also given me a chance to learn more about the role of the state in supporting our work here, by allowing me to participate in Graduate Research Advocacy Day in Sacramento. As a researcher who hopes to stay in academic research, this insight was invaluable.”

Sharine recently defended her dissertation and is on her way to achieving her academic goal of obtaining her PhD this June.  She will then complete her final two years of medical school and receive her MD.  Ultimately, she hopes that her extensive training will allow her to find an academic position at a major research university with an affiliated academic medical center so that she can continue both her research and clinical work.

Outside of research, Sharine finds fulfillment in spreading her passion for health to her community. She has spent countless hours volunteering for organizations that provide care and health-related programming to underserved groups here in Orange County.

She also believes in developing a nice balance between her work and personal life, but admits that it can be a challenge.  “My sister died suddenly at a young age.  Her death has inspired me to appreciate and make the most of each and every day.  Balancing work and life is a constant battle, but finding joy in the work that I do makes that balance a bit easier to find. Living on campus saves me many hours of commuting, in addition to decreasing my contribution to air pollution, and I take advantage of that extra time by going to the gym or for a run,” says Sharine.

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