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Working at CSU

Russian language skills open doors abroad for prof

June 15, 2009

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Slovenia are among the distant map points Stephen Reynolds has visited and worked in during his years as an industrial hygienist and environmental health researcher, not exactly typical destinations for work or travel. But if it wasn't for one high school class in particular, those opportunities to work in such exotic and challenging locales may not have presented themselves.

High school class has big impact

“I attended a high school in Minnesota which actually offered Russian as one of its foreign languages,” said Reynolds, a professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences and director of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety. “There were only two students in the class, but the class had a big impact on the opportunities I’ve had in my professional career.”

(Photo: Reynolds at a Roman temple in Armenia.)

Following high school, Reynolds attended Carleton College in Minnesota where he majored in chemistry and Russian. He worked as a biochemist for a while and then attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota where he received his master’s and Ph.D. in environmental health. (He helped support himself in school as a distance runner sponsored by Nike.) He also worked for a consulting firm in industrial hygiene and broader areas of environmental health getting real-world experience outside of the academic realm.

Human side of environmental movement

“The environmental movement was really taking off in the 1970s,” said Reynolds, who also is deputy director of the Mountain and Plains Education and Research Center, one of 17 national centers funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. “I found out by chance about the University of Minnesota’s program and thought it looked really interesting. I was especially interested in the human side of things and decided to focus on industrial hygiene. While I was in graduate school, I used to altitude train in Colorado and arranged to meet Roy Buchan (at Colorado State) who was working in the same field.”

Invited to Russia as a visiting scientist

In 1991, Reynolds joined the faculty at the University of Iowa, a tremendous place in terms of research and teaching, he noted, with a small faculty and lots of activities. Around this time, the Soviet Union was breaking up and Reynolds was invited to work in Russia as a visiting scientist. With the National Academy of Sciences, he spent time trying to work in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

(Photo: Reynolds teaching in Armenia.)

Worker safety regulations lacking

“These countries have pretty devastating environmental problems, and little to no worker safety regulations, but they have so many fundamental problems with just stabilizing the government and providing basic services, those issues are barely acknowledged,” said Reynolds. “There are dedicated and passionate individuals who are trying hard, but it’s a very difficult environment and can also be quite dangerous. Democracy in that part of the world is pretty shaky.”

In Slovenia, Reynolds worked with colleagues to develop a private university with an environmental program. He also was awarded a Fulbright scholarship two years ago to work on papers, pesticide exposures, public health programs, and more in Armenia.

Joined CSU in 2001

In 2001, Reynolds left the University of Iowa to join the faculty at Colorado State University and be deputy director of HICAHS. Since then, the program has been revamped to reflect changing concerns in agriculture. 

Reynolds’ current research focuses on the relation of respiratory disease to organic dust and bioaeresols, as well as endotoxins from gram negative bacteria. He also is developing genetic studies to look at the human susceptibility side of exposures, a particularly important issue for those who are especially sensitive to endotoxin exposure.

“In our laboratory, we are able to look at things a little bit more indepth, as well as learn from our colleagues here at CSU, especially as we delve into proteomics and genomics,” said Reynolds. “These tools will be particularly valuable in characterizing not only endotoxins, but other factors that lead to differences in exposure-related health effects.”

(Photo: Reynolds inspects a roll bar on a tractor at the CSU Agricultural Research Center.)

Global impact, partnerships

In addition to his roles at HICAHS and the Mountain and Plains ERC, Reynolds is a faculty affiliate with the Colorado School of Public Health. He also is the current vice chair of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, and will serve as chair next year. ACGIH is the global leader in science-based guidelines to protect workers.

His Russian language skills still open opportunities abroad and Reynolds looks forward to continuing the partnerships that will help that part of the world care for its workers and its citizens, with an eye to the future health of their collective populations.

Originally published in the ERHS Emitter, Spring 2009.