So You Can Breathe Easier: A Late-Blooming Navy Veteran Earns His Ph.D. and Digs into the Science Behind Air Pollution

By Abbasi, Jennifer | Success, January 2013 | Go to article overview

So You Can Breathe Easier: A Late-Blooming Navy Veteran Earns His Ph.D. and Digs into the Science Behind Air Pollution


Abbasi, Jennifer, Success


Navy veteran Tim McAuley is on a mission: to improve the air we breathe. For a guy who entered the military straight out of high school (where he was a marginal academic performer), researching pollution seems an unlikely career. But he found his calling and now evaluates the impact of industrial development, cigarette smoke and automobile fumes that choke the atmosphere in places such as where our kids walk to school.

For instance, a few years ago, when an asphalt company tried to set up shop in Westford. Mass., a community group contacted McAuley to analyze the factory's impact on air quality. "The last thing this small country town needed was an asphalt plant," McAuley says of Westford, which already had a quarry and a concrete plant.

His research team determined that the asphalt company's air quality impact models, which projected legal levels of emissions, were dangerously inaccurate; in fact, the plant would probably significantly exceed national air quality standards three months of every year. Because of research by McAuley and other scientists, the town's board of health rejected the permit.

McAuley is chief executive manager of CHANGE (Consulting for Health, Air, Nature, & a Greener Environment), an air quality and human health exposure firm in Queensbury, N.Y. He started the company in 2009, when he was 35.

Back in high school in Lake George, N.Y., McAuley probably couldn't have guessed that he'd end up with a doctorate in environmental science and engineering--the first ever granted by Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.--or that he'd direct a multinational consulting business with networks in close to 150 countries. A jock with a C average, McAuley entered the Navy after high school graduation because he knew he wasn't ready for college. Two years into his service, McAuley was stationed aboard the USS Mount Whitney at the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. On Sundays, his day off, he'd hang out at the town's Barnes & Noble, and during one visit he picked up a book on Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. The purchase ignited an interest in science that changed his life.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'Before long, he had a stack of science books in his tiny quarters, and fellow sailors came to him for tutoring for their chemistry courses at the nearby community college. It was then that he realized he would go into medicine or science after the Navy.

Although he was "one of the worst chemistry students in high school," McAuley can recall an early science lesson that captured his imagination. His First-grade teacher drew an atom--electrons circling a nucleus--on the chalkboard and compared it to the classroom, with everyone working together. McAuley began to look at himself as an entity in the vast universe. He remembers standing on a beach in Maine when he was 12, looking out toward the horizon and feeling like a tiny molecule with amazing things surrounding him. "I've always been interested in things you can't see but that are going on around you," he says.

After the Navy, molecules became his lire's work. When he showed up for a campus visit at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N Y.--where he would later earn his undergraduate degree in biochemistry--the dean of admissions asked him to fill out an application. He produced one that was already typed up, and she accepted him on the spot.

McAuley, a self-described type A personality, says he's always been driven, whether in sports or in science. But it was the military that taught him the discipline necessary to succeed in academia and then build a global business.

In the Navy, he served as a radioman, a communications officer responsible for decoding and delivering classified messages up the chain of command. The job, which took him to Haiti for Operation Support Democracy in 1994, sometimes required working 16- to 18-hour shifts for weeks at a time. …

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