How Suffolk University is responding
to the coronavirus outbreak
Story by Kara Baskin
Photography by Cyn Kain Photography
It may be intended to reduce pollution, but there’s no doubt that the Clean Air Act can seem a bit murky. It falls to Corey Mocka, BS ’08, a physical scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, to decipher the act for Washington, D.C. policymakers.
“At the most basic level, my job involves providing EPA management and decision makers [such as political appointees] with various options for them to make policy decisions,” says Mocka, a 2018 Suffolk 10 Under 10 alumni honoree. “Aside from the specific technical questions surrounding a project, most questions are often related to risk: What are the potential outcomes if we make this decision? Are we being consistent? What outcome does the state prefer? What is the precedent?”
Air pollution law is complicated, he concedes—but he finds the EPA’s aims to be refreshingly straightforward and motivating. The agency’s mission is simple—to protect human health and the environment—a statement that also describes Mocka’s role.
“One of the most difficult parts of air quality policy often is distilling complex scientific information to its simplest form so that those unfamiliar with the subject can make the necessary policy decisions,” he says.
Earlier this year, Mocka served as the keynote speaker at the College of Arts & Sciences 2021 STEAM virtual reception. He discussed air quality basics, the regulatory process, and things that he wished he’d known before graduating.
As an undergraduate, Mocka served as a resident assistant at 150 Tremont—now Smith Hall—and majored in chemistry, where he loved the tight-knit classes. But he urged his student audience not to be restrained by specialization. His first job at the EPA was as an on-site consultant for the Office of Research and Development, where he was responsible for operating various air sampling equipment and laboratory instrumentation.
“Just because you have a degree in chemistry doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be a bench chemist,” he says. “I have a degree in chemistry, but I’m doing environmental policy. Looking outside of the traditional fields of your major can definitely help.”
He believes the EPA is the best place for him to put his degree to use, given that the environment is on top of many people’s minds. “Whether we’re talking about persistent chemicals in the environment or climate change, I do feel like at this critical juncture, we are getting a lot more engagement—and, to me, that’s very exciting.”