Meet the Faculty – Associate Professor Jooyeon Hwang
Jooyeon Hwang, PhD, MS, is an Associate Professor in Industrial Hygiene for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) at the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. She received her Ph.D. in Industrial Hygiene and M.S. in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Hwang was as a postdoctoral fellow at the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Her research has focused on evaluation of the relationship between occupational exposure to specific contaminants and adverse health effects in several different industries including mining, agricultural, and public safety including firefighters. In particular, her research conducts the development of new exposure-associated microbiomes and multi-omics assessment methods to characterize occupational and environmental exposures for health studies.
To learn more about Dr. Hwang, SWCOEH.org asked her more about her background.
SWCOEH.org: What attracted you to this role as an associate professor with the SWCOEH?
Dr. Hwang: The research and teaching program of the SWCOEH has a rich history and a national reputation for excellence in occupational and environmental health research. I am honored to be part of the faculty.
SWCOEH.org: Can you describe your educational experiences at the University of Minnesota and what you enjoyed while earning your PhD in Industrial Hygiene?
Dr. Hwang: Among numerous wonderful experiences I had at UMN, I would like to particularly highlight my dissertation project. My doctoral dissertation was part of a larger epidemiological study that identified sources of primary and historical exposure values for the mining industry. For my dissertation, I developed new industrial hygiene methodologies to comprehensively assess occupational risk factors for mining industry-based epidemiological studies. My original exposure assessment strategies allowed me to address the toxicity of elongated mineral particles. By combining different imputation methodologies, I was able to reconstruct missing historical data. This reconstruction facilitated the evaluation of the relationship between exposure to environmental and occupational hazards and adverse health effects, including mesothelioma and silicosis. Throughout my dissertation work, I came to appreciate the significance of being part of a highly interdisciplinary research team. The most rewarding aspect of my dissertation research was positively impacting the health of miners through meaningful interactions.
SWCOEH.org: Can you describe your work as a postdoc fellow in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)?
Dr. Hwang: Following the completion of my Ph.D., I served as a Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) intramural postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the NIH/National Cancer Institute (NCI). As a fellow, I expanded my methods of retrospective exposure assessment from industrial hygiene to occupational epidemiology. My work contributed to identifying the cancer risks associated with exposure to contaminated air because my method reduces the misclassifications that can occur in the absence of exposure data. When misclassifications are reduced, the power of an occupational epidemiology study is maximized, resulting in a better estimate of cumulative working-life dosage for each individual and, thus, risk factors.
SWCOEH.org: Recently you led a study on the potential toxicant exposure and the health risks of smoke for wildland firefighters. What are your main takeaways after the study? If you had the time and resources for a follow up study, what would you focus on?
Dr. Hwang: The contaminants present in wildland fire smoke increase the risks of various cancers for firefighters. However, given the expansive areas covered by wildfires, wildland firefighters tend not to use the heavy respiratory protection equipment used by structural firefighters, such as SCBA. In a follow-up study, we will apply a methodology the research team and I have developed to better characterize fire smoke exposure, identify the related core microbiota present, and apply metagenomic sequencing analysis to the target population of wildland firefighters. Our collaborative work will gather valuable evidence for firefighters and their communities, positively impacting millions.
SWCOEH.org: What are you excited to teach/research/learn at the SWCOEH?
Dr. Hwang: I not only have a passion for research in occupational and environmental health, but also enjoy teaching and mentoring the occupational and environmental health specialists of the future. In particular, I am excited to teach students about new advances in -omics research and how -omics can be applied in occupational and environmental studies. I am also excited to expose them to both established and more innovative methods for conducting exposure research. Correspondingly, my goals are to continue extending my research to apply the same innovations and develop new methodologies. The SWCOEH has many excellent programs including Industrial Hygiene, Pilot Project Research, Occupational & Environmental Medicine Residency, Occupational Epidemiology, Outreach, Total Worker HealthÒ, and Continuing Education. The SWCOEH provides support to each individual student to hone his or her academic skills against a unique background, and I have learned to invest time and effort into respecting that diversity. I also hope to participate in the many excellent programs offered by SWCOEH, both for extending my knowledge base and providing support to the students.
The SWCOEH provides graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational epidemiology, and Total Worker Health® programs.