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The Power of Perseverance

Montclair State alumnus to serve country with dream EPA job

Posted in: Alumni, Biology, EAES, Marine Biology

Matthew Khan releasing turtle into the wild
Matthew Khan releasing turtle into the wild

Even before he earned his BS and MS degrees in Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences at Montclair State University, Matthew Khan had set his sights on serving his country by working at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“When most people think about serving our nation, they think of the armed forces or law enforcement. But there are other ways to serve,” Khan says. In his new role as a biologist with the EPA, he will do just that.

We’ve got this great nation that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean – and everything in between is filled with amazing creatures, natural resources and people that rely on the health of our natural environment. I’m excited to be able to work with people who are equally passionate and dedicated to protecting that environment

Persistence Pays Off

While Khan had applied for several positions at the EPA as early as 2016, it wasn’t until July 2018 that he applied for a position as a biologist in Arlington, Virginia. Nearly a year passed before he learned he had landed the job.

In December – six months after submitting his initial application – the EPA asked Khan to interview for the biologist job. In May, he found out his appointment will start in July 2019.

Khan is eager to ensure that pesticides and rodenticides all comply with the federal regulations. “These chemicals must be reviewed by the EPA every decade to make sure they meet the latest standards,” he explains. “I’ll be reviewing the latest environmental regulations and comparing the chemicals’ test data against the standards.”

Committed to Conservation

Passionate about conservation, as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Montclair State, Khan focused on microplastic pollution and its effect on ribbed marsh mussels in Sandy Hook. His hard work paid off with a published paper in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

After receiving his MS in 2017, Khan continued to build his resume by heading to Jekyll Island, Georgia, to serve for a year with AmeriCorps at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

“I was tasked with running the marine debris program and working with citizen scientist volunteers to mitigate marine pollution in and around Jekyll Island,” he recalls. “Additionally, I worked with the sea turtle rehabilitation team two to three days a week to care for and treat the Center’s wildlife patients.”

Although Khan views his time with AmeriCorps as an invaluable once-in-a-lifetime experience, he initially felt defeated when he had no immediate prospects in sight after completing his year of service.

Since November 2018, however, he has gained additional experience in his field as an endangered species observer aboard hopper dredgers – marine vessels that dredge seabeds to create and maintain safe and navigable shipping lanes for ships heading into ports.

Khan lives on board these ships for three or more weeks at a time, seeing that the construction and dredging efforts comply with environmental laws. “I keep an eye out for whales and sea turtles, make sure that the construction equipment is within compliance and also document any interactions with endangered species,” he says.

While Khan says his appointment to the EPA is a dream come true, he is quick to give credit to those who contributed to his success.

I’d like to thank every single person who has ever pushed me to do better, forced me to keep looking and urged me not to give up,” he says. “For any of you out there considering giving up on your goals, I hope my story will offer some hope that hard work, sacrifice and persistence can really pay off.