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#STEMStories: Dr. Tracy, PhD Environmental Engineer and Scientist, USA

1. Say hi :) who are you what do you do?

Hi, my name is Dr. Tracy Fanara, and I work to extend humanity’s time on earth.  I run a research program at Mote Marine Laboratories where we perform experiments, develop technology, and design strategies to protect public health and water quality. My expertise is in sustainable design, so working to restore the earth's natural water cycle through innovative engineering.  Right now, my focus is on Florida red tide, a native, harmful algae species that has a toxin causing harm to aquatic live, but also to humans due to its ability to aerosolize (attach on to sea salt particles); with winds, these toxins move onshore causing respiratory irritation in healthy individuals, but for those with asthma or other respiratory diseases, this can be very serious.  I work to develop technology to protect public health during these events.

2. How did you arrive at this career? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

When I was nine, I learned about a place near where I grew up which had been dumping grounds for industry hazardous waste.  I was told how the toxins leached into the soils and groundwater migrating from the site. People unknowingly built houses and schools on the contaminated land, and people got sick.  From this I saw how everything is connected and how our impacts to the environment, impact our health. Then I learned that unsafe drinking water was the leading cause of child death worldwide.  So when I heard about a career where I could find ways to clean water, make sure everyone has enough food, protect people from natural disasters, and also design and build things, I wanted in! I wanted to be a superhero, so I became an Environmental Engineer.

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

Luckily, I’m in Florida, so we don’t have many cold mornings, but even if we did, I love being at my lab!  I work with other scientists that want to make the world a better place by protecting wildlife, humans, and our natural resources.  I learn something new every day, and teach someone something every day.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

I have found that the best medicine for my stress is exercise.  Normally, I try to do something active every day, but there are many days recently with the state of emergency that Florida was in due to the red tide bloom, that I could not find time.  I learned quickly how important it is to make time- for exercise, and for friends and family. I doubt myself often, and it’s a good thing because it tells me that I’m constantly pushing myself to go outside of my comfort zone and to grow.

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

I have so many role models.  Each of my friends inspires me to be better in a different way, whether it’s being kind, generous, brave, confident, loyal, hard working, funny, etc.  My parents were role models to me growing up- hardworking, creative, ambitious, and caring. There are many public figures too- ones that have broken stereotypes, stand up for what they believe even when it’s not popular, those that have a voice for those without one, and especially those that overcome obstacles and never give up. There are role models all around us, if we look for the good in the world/  They are the bright lights which lead us on our path.

6. What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?

Stop taking life so seriously.  Study, but don’t over study- balance is the key to a clear mind on test day.  You are never too old for your dreams… or for water balloon wars (for example). You don’t have to plan out the rest of your life; let life be a journey, and if you always work hard and treat those around you with compassion, those unexpected turns will lead to a place much better than your plan.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  • Don’t give up...if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
  • Keep up with math throughout grade school and take Calculus before college
  • Accept challenges, accept your failures, accept help when needed

8. How do you measure your success?

I measure my success by what I am working to accomplish - what are the broader impacts, and will they make an impact on people’s lives or the environment?

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

You can visit my website (www.inspectorplanet.com), Mote Marine Laboratory Environmental Health website, or check out my social media where I keep updated information about projects!

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Twitter:  @inspectorplanet

Instagram: @inspectorplanet

Facebook: Dr. Tracy Fanara

LinkedIn: Tracy Fanara, PhD