Inspired by Disney ‘magic:’ graduate student finds passion in environmental and occupational health
Finding the place you’re meant to be isn’t always easy.
Haley Capello’s career interests changed several times while she searched for a passion that motivated her deeply. Inspired by strong women mentors in science, Capello decided early in her college career that she wanted to go to medical school. As she continued on that path, however, she realized that she didn’t share the same level of passion for the medical field as her peers.
“I felt dispirited and uninspired. I knew the only way to recharge was to work in a place that always inspired me to spread joy and find my center: Walt Disney World,” said Capello.
Capello went on to enter the Disney College Program and work at an attraction called “Living with the Land,” a boat ride that tours multiple landscapes and environments.
“From that experience, I realized that I had a passion for the environment and learned a lot about the impressive safety culture at Disney,” Capello said. Encouraged, Capello decided to go to graduate school and study environmental and occupational health.
As her graduate studies progressed, Capello sought real-world experience in the field of industrial hygiene. Industrial hygiene is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling environmental factors and workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness. Capello’s perfect opportunity came when she discovered the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) Program.
The MLEF Program provides students with fellowship opportunities to gain hands-on research experience with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy. The program’s mission is to strengthen and increase the pipeline of diverse future science, technology, engineering and math professionals.
For her fellowship, Capello was stationed at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) Headquarters in New Orleans, Louisiana. The SPR is the world’s largest supply of emergency crude oil; it is owned by the U.S. government. The oil stocks are stored in giant underground salt caverns at four sites located along the coastline of Louisiana and Texas.
Heat-related illness is one of the challenges presented by this unique workplace environment. Employees typically work in outdoor areas or confined spaces, and they are frequently required to wear heavy personal protective equipment. The protective gear can increase body temperature, which left untreated, could lead to permanent disability or death.
To help address this health issue, Capello interviewed employees and performed samplings of environmental factors. She gained insight into how much heat stress workers may experience while at work. With the guidance of her mentor, Jenna Bird, senior industrial hygienist, Capello was able to design recommendations to improve heat stroke prevention.
For Capello, the experience was a stepping stone in her career and she gained confidence in her ultimate career pursuits. “I found the program extremely valuable. It provided me with industrial hygiene experience that I need to go forward in my career,” said Capello.
Capello graduated with a master’s degree in environmental and occupational health from Louisiana State University. Now, she is an intern with Walt Disney World on the Worldwide Safety and Health Team. Capello hopes to become a Certified Safety Professional and continue her career in the environmental and occupational health field.
The MLEF Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy. ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.