SNRE Alumna Kerry Ard Receives 2013 ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award

The purpose of the ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards is to recognize exceptional and unusually interesting work produced by doctoral students in the last phase of their graduate work.  Kerry Ard was chosen as a 2013 recipient for her thesis: Changes in Exposure to Industrial Air Pollution Across the United States from 1995 to 2004: The Role of Race, Income, and Segregation.

Average annual amount of pollution experienced by individuals in the racial/economic groups specified

Kerry's research explores how social processes create and sustain environmental inequalities by race and class and how these unequal exposures are linked to health disparities. She uses sociological concepts to understand the issues of social inequality and the environment.  In her dissertation, she used population data to investigate trends in exposure to industrial toxins from 1995 to 2004 for different racial and income groups in the United States, finding that the average middle class African-Americans were consistently more exposed over time than lower class whites. The data she used in her dissertation are unique and required her to think outside of the box.  The EPA regulates over 17,000 facilities in their Toxic Release Inventory program; each facility is required to report their annual emissions of over 400 toxins.  The data she used took all of these reports and modeled where they would land in the surrounding environment; she analyzed over 5 billion observations for each of the ten years she was studying.  To make this manageable required that she learn how to write computer code, utilize supercomputing and a variety of software.

This research helps shed light on how the relationship between race and place in the U.S. is still affecting our everyday lives and contributes to social stratification through environmental risk and resulting health outcomes.  Health disparities between African-Americans and whites in this country drag the U.S. down on important global indicators for a developed country, such as life expectancy and infant mortality.  This research can help guide policy solutions towards the ultimate causes of these disparities.

Kerry's success is due in large part to the support she received from her family and her two mentors: Drs. Dorceta Taylor and Sarah Burgard.  They were always her champions, sounding boards, and provided her with the needed reminders that the struggles one goes through in writing a dissertation are normal.   Research is about charting new territory which means there are no text book answers to rely on. They helped her to feel confident in the tools she brought to navigate that uncertainty. This award is particularly meaningful to her because of the personal challenges she had to overcome throughout her education.  Not everyone she cared about understood why she was undertaking a PhD, or believed that she could complete my degree. To receive this honor helps her to know that she should have confidence in her own abilities even when others doubt them.

In five years Kerry hopes she will have amassed a sufficient publication record that will put her in good stead as she moves forward in the academic ranks at Ohio State University. She feels her integrated and interdisciplinary education at the University of Michigan prepared her well for working in such an eclectic department.   Her current collaborators range from wildlife ecologists to public health officials.  As the School of Environmental and Natural Resources at Ohio State University grows, she hopes to become a leader in the social science faculty group and help them achieve eminence through her research, outreach and grantsmanship.