Alum goes from environmental science to environmental safety

Becky Bell jokes that she was “ancient” compared to the rest of her classmates when she went back to school at age 30.

She already had two Associate’s degrees to her name and a job as an Environmental, Health, and Safety Coordinator with Benz Oil, but she knew she needed a Bachelor’s degree if she wanted to take her career further. UWM and a Conservation and Environmental Science major were the natural choice.

“I love the outdoors. I think protecting the environment and doing everything we can is extremely important,” she said. “It’s a passion of mine.”

Bell entered UWM in 2009 and the next three years were busy ones – she worked full-time and went to school full-time as well. The classes made it worth it. Bell remembers with fondness a fungi, algae and plants course that was particularly inspiring, and smiles when she recalls the professor who taught it.

She graduated in 2012 and went straight to work for Athea Packaging and Laboratories, which manufactures specialty chemicals and wet wipes.

“That was not the field I wanted to be in,” Bell said, “but my job focused on regulatory compliance. As part of my regulatory responsibilities, I worked closely with the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and the EPA. I really enjoyed that aspect.”

UWM alumna Becky Bell's love of the outdoors made a Conservation and Environmental Science major a natural fit.
UWM alumna Becky Bell’s love of the outdoors made a Conservation and Environmental Science major a natural fit.

In May, Bell found a job much more to her liking: she is now an Environmental Health and Safety Specialist at the Milwaukee branch of Novozymes BioAg, Inc., a Danish corporation in the business of producing enzymes and agricultural biologicals.

“The BioAg division ‘manufactures’ microbials that are derived from bacteria and fungi. At the Milwaukee facility, we are growing microorganisms that are taken from plant roots,” Bell explained. “We grow them fermentation tanks, mix them with water, clay, or peat, and then sell the final product as a bioyield enhancer. It’s completely natural and plant-based, and the final product enhances a plant’s ability to uptake nutrients therefore allowing farmers to use less water on their crops.”

A plant-based product might not seem like it could harm the environment, but Bell is still kept busy by numerous health, environment, and safety regulations. Due to the nature of the manufacturing process, there is potential for unwanted material to enter the storm water system. It’s especially important for her to make employees aware of what could potentially end up going down the drain and how to prevent storm and groundwater contamination.

“It’s important for employees in any type of manufacturing environment, especially in Milwaukee, to understand that everything that gets poured down the drain will eventually end up in Lake Michigan,” Bell said. “I understand the significance of that now because I’ve gone to school for it, but I didn’t have much of a clue before I went to UWM.”

In addition to monitoring her company’s storm water and spill control programs, Bell tracks Novozymes BioAg water and energy usage. She also handles employee training and workplace safety regulations to keep the business compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. Her work keeps her on the road quite a bit as she travels to other branches of Novozymes BioAg to study their environmental, health, and safety procedures. This year, she’s been tasked with helping to standardize environmental, health, and safety practices at all of the Novozymes BioAg branches in North and South America.

It’s a big job, but Bell loves it.

“I would not be where I am without my degree from UWM. I knew what I wanted to do but I needed a degree to do it,” she said. “The classes made me appreciate what we have here in Milwaukee, and it made me want to spread that love and knowledge of the environment to others.”

– Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science