University of Massachusetts Boston alumna Gina McCarthy has a career spanning thirty years of working on environmental issues. Working both at the state and local levels in Massachusetts and Connecticut, she now serves as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). McCarthy's work and career have been revered through many communities. At a yearly breakfast gathering of alumni, Chancellor J. Keith Motley introduced her as “the most distinguished alumna of the University of Massachusetts in Boston.”
McCarthy was the honoree of this year's “Someone to be Proud of” event which has taken place twice a year since 2000. This event recognizes University of Massachusetts alumni who have gone on to great achievements.
In a room filled with UMass alumni and a few current students, McCarthy sat down to have a conversation with Glenn Mangurian, who started the yearly breakfast event 14 years ago with fellow alumni.
McCarthy spoke of her early education, career, politics, and love of the Red Sox, but she mostly talked about her fondness for the lessons she learned at UMass Boston.
“UMass Boston was an amazing experience for me,” said McCarthy, who received a Bachelor of Science for Social Anthropology in 1976. She described her diploma as “the best degree I could have ever gotten,” and attributes her social anthropology studies for “opening up a world to me in understanding the diversity in the world. It changed the boundaries for me and allowed me to have a whole different view of the world and the people in it.”
She went on to say that even today as a government official she is still using what she learned at UMass Boston. “Your ability to learn and listen and understand what is important to people can really be the difference between crafting something that just won’t go and crafting something that’s balanced," said McCarthy, adding, “it’s been a remarkable experience and I honestly attribute most of that to my years at UMass Boston."
Her first job out of UMass Boston was as a switchboard operator at Boston Children’s Hospital, which McCarthy admitted she was horrible at. During graduate school McCarthy worked at a community health center and began to achieve a sense of direction for her career. “I soon realized that a lot of the things I was seeing in community health work were challenges associated with environmental exposures,” said McCarthy.
When asked if she knew she wanted to be an environmentalist in high school, McCarthy answered without hesitation, “no, I still don’t actually,” which sent a roar of laughter through the crowd. Public health is what McCarthy is most concerned with. “At my heart, I focus much more on the public health aspects than what most people think of traditionally as environmental work,” said McCarthy, “because to me most environmental work is public health work.”
McCarthy went on to talk about how she did “absolutely nothing in high school.” But she always had a love of learning taught to her by her father, and learning at UMass Boston was “almost like, thirst quenching.” She touched upon how the sixties were responsible for a desire to work as a public servant, and "it was all about what you could do to make the world a better place.”
At the end of the discussion she was asked to give the few students in attendance some advice. She responded: “to me it’s been a wonderful journey. I hope you take it. The things you learn at UMass could change the world in a positive way and I hope you grab that."