This excerpt by John Chacona appeared in Gannon Magazine, Summer 2012

Despite the persistence of the “ivory tower” myth, the borders between the academy and the so-called “real world” have always been porous at Gannon, with the traffic from each side enriching both. The most potent evidence of this phenomenon is certainly the expertise that well-rounded and intellectually curious faculty bring into their classrooms, research laboratories and scholarly writing.

Usually, this comes from an immersion in the particular discipline in which a professor has specialized, and that is certainly the case at Gannon University. Many members of the faculty who train aspiring nurses were once nurses in various specialties and all levels of the discipline. Psychologists maintain private practices that enrich and inform their teaching, and when A.J. Miceli ’86M teaches a class in broadcast copywriting, he has tapes of his on-air performances to show how it’s done.

But it stands to reason that a faculty as large and multivariate as Gannon’s brings a kaleidoscopic range of experiences with them, and not always in the kinds of careers or enthusiasms that one might expect.

Timothy Coppock, Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical mental health counseling, came to counseling from an entirely logical, though unlikely, route: the ministry. Before English department professor Berwyn Moore breathed the ineffable language of poetry, she worked as a respiratory technician.

The story of Michelle Homan, associate professor of environmental science and engineering, is perhaps the most conventional, but her back-story is less typical.

“I study environmental pollutants and their effect on human health,” Homan says, and it’s not hard to see why.

Homan grew up in Oil City, Pa., a town that had been dominated by the petroleum industry for a century. Massive oil refineries, among the first in the world, glowered over the approaches to the town, and when they began to disappear, a company town was transformed into a living laboratory for the effects of chemicals on human populations.

“Measuring chemicals in the environment is what I’m interested in,” Homan says, perhaps with some inevitability, but it wasn’t where she started. “I was a microbiology major and was really interested in viruses and how they mutate, but I found that the lab work was not for me.”

She left graduate school at the Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute to work for the New York State Health Department, where she became interested in public health. “When I took my first toxicology course at SUNY Albany, I thought I needed to know more.”
But she didn’t stop there. With a new master’s degree and specialization in industrial health, Homan headed to ground zero of America’s industrial heartland: Detroit. While at the University of Michigan, Homan worked with a consultant who had access to cyclopean plants of the Big Three automakers. These days, she is a consultant herself in human health risk assessment, mostly for the Department of Environmental Protection, but also for private clients.

Homan explains, “It’s taking environmental risk sampling data, say the presence of benzene in water, and based on the amount, you calculate the cancer risk with that chemical. You take all the chemicals, and you have a cumulative cancer risk.”

Erie’s industrial past offers ripe possibilities for research, and Homan is eager to pursue them. She is doing soil studies in the Erie-GAINS (Gannon Alliances to Improve Neighborhood Sustainability) neighborhood with her new departmental colleague, Hwidong Kim. “He’s an environmental engineer with a chemical analysis background, and we’re looking at the effect of soil particle size and calcium in the leaching of lead.”

She hopes to expand this study to a profile of all the different trace metals present in the neighborhood’s soils, which, Homan says, “would be helpful in doing risk assessments.”

But wait, there’s more! Head over to the magazine’s Facebook page to read about two other Gannon faculty, Timothy Coppock, Ph.D. and Berwyn Moore, and their paths to Gannon. Read more of the Gannon Magazine Summer 2012, and other, issues online anytime at