FIYou: Alok Deoraj

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Professor Alok Deoraj of the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work has been racking up the awards and recognitions; he was selected as a faculty fellow of the STEM Transformation Institute and an affiliate faculty member of the Biomolecular Sciences Institute while earning a promotion to senior instructor at the college.

With more than 20 years of research, teaching and management experience in academic and industry settings, Deoraj supervises graduate research and teaches environmental and global public health courses at undergraduate and graduate levels.

Through funding from a Writing Across the Curriculum Grant he was recently awarded, Deoraj will enhance a popular Global Learning “Health Without Borders” online course starting in the Fall 2016 semester.

“The enhancement of writing assignments in this course will allow students to gain real-life experiences,” he says.

We took a moment to sit down with Deoraj to find out a few more things you should know about him.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in public health?

The fact that public health is a multidisciplinary area was an important reason why I decided to pursue a career in this area. The decision also emanates from my desire to connect and communicate my knowledge and skills in the areas ranging from cellular and molecular sciences to complex interventions addressing global, public and environmental health issues. In addition, it gives me great satisfaction to bring my extensive academic research and senior management experience in industry to my public health classrooms, which most certainly adds value to the students’ learning outcomes.

Where are you originally from and where did you earn your degrees?

I come from a small village named Mathia in the state of Bihar, India. I earned a Master of Science from Patna University, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. from the National Institute of Immunology-Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. I also earned a Certificate of Business Management from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee while I was working in the private sector.

What made you decide to join FIU Stempel College?

I had previously worked in the area of biotechnology academic research and industry, investigating environmental influences on biological processes as well as preclinical drug discovery and safety and toxicity assays for environmental pollutants. In 2009, I actively started my search for an opportunity in academics or industry in the Miami area.

I identified a few leads, including one from the Environmental and Occupational Health Department of FIU Stempel College. I was attracted by the cutting-edge research conducted in the department and the multidisciplinary reach of this fascinating public health subject. During my interview I was able to connect my professional experience and identify my niche in making contributions in the environmental public health discipline.

Moreover, when I came for an interview I felt welcomed. I loved the campus and instantly felt the potential FIU has for the community, the nation and the world. That’s when I decided to join the EOH department as an assistant research professor. After a year or so, I was appointed as an instructor in the department of EOH.

I feel privileged to have been able to contribute for the last six years in teaching, research and service for this minority-majority serving Worlds Ahead institution.

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What research are you working on now?

The current focus of my research is to understand the environmental influence on the timing of the onset of puberty, reproductive maturation and aging. My research looks into how environmental stress and the pollutants that are present in our water, air, food and even at the workplace—for example PCBs, BPA or pesticides—or our lifestyle, may alter the molecular and physiological regulatory pathways that determine the timing of the onset of reproductive maturation.

The timing of the reproductive maturity is an important public health issue and major risk factor for chronic diseases. It’s a health determinant for men and women globally. I anticipate that my research will help in understanding the influence of the complex environmental exposure and its association with timing of the onset of puberty, reproductive maturation and aging. My research will help develop public health interventions as well as environmental and epigenetic biomarkers of reproductive impairment, aging and chronic diseases for their diagnosis and treatment.

What excites you about FIU Stempel College?

FIU Stempel College excites me because it’s a young college, which has an incredible potential going forward. For a faculty member like me, I think there are abundant opportunities to make contributions in teaching, research and service. Another characteristic of this college is the diversity and strength in the knowledge and skills of our students and faculty—which is by far the greatest asset of this college. Taken together with our gorgeous new building, AHC5, where we relocated about 18 months ago, these assets truly represent the forward looking global nature of this college. And that is indeed exciting for me!

What do you hope to accomplish as a faculty fellow of the STEM Transformation Institute?

I hope to develop STEM-based curricula that will engage South Florida’s community of young students and get them excited about the translational aspects of global and environmental public health teaching. As a faculty fellow of STEM Transformation Institute, my instruction will highlight the roles of bioinformatics, biotechnology and cost-effective science-based solutions to address our local and global environmental public health issues.

I’m interested in advancing our science-based understanding of the environmental determinants of health, from the level of the genome and microbiome to populations. I’m also interested in educating and training future environmental and global public health scientists, professionals and leaders. I’ll continue to engage students at all levels from undergraduate to Ph.D. level in mechanism-based and evidence-based research to help detect, prevent and control adverse influences of the environment on human health.

What advice do you have for students pursuing their degree at FIU Stempel College?

My advice to students is to join FIU Stempel College degree programs to be a better teacher, a better doctor, a nurse, a marine, a researcher or a public health professional for numerous government, private, non-governmental and global health agencies. Join the team at FIU Stempel College to find solutions to the environmental and health challenges you, your family and the community are facing now, or will face in the future.

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