Laurie Stevenson ’88: Get ready to 'roll up your sleeves and make a difference'

Director of Ohio Environmental Protection Agency addresses BGSU December Class of 2019

Laurie Stevenson ’88 said Bowling Green State University helped her find her path to public service as she addressed BGSU graduate candidates during its 296th graduation Dec. 14 at the Stroh Center.

“My field of interest is in environmental protection and public health,” she told the December Class of 2019. “But the world of public service is very broad. Probably every one of you sitting in the audience could lend your talents to public service, be it in education, health care, public safety, social services, mental health and addiction recovery — and the list goes on. I hope many of you consider choosing public service because we need you in our world. Public service is equally challenging and rewarding.”

The graduating class included 1,047 candidates. Among the undergraduates, 89 were presented associate degrees and 731 bachelor’s degrees. Of those, 190 received honors for their high grade-point averages. The 217 graduate students included 187 candidates for master’s degrees and 30 for doctoral degrees. The Dec. 14 ceremony included candidates from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education and Human Development.

Stevenson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental health from BGSU in 1988, is the director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A public servant of 30 years, she began her career at Ohio EPA as a field inspector with the Division of Hazardous Waste Management in the agency’s Logan, Ohio, office.

“I graduated from Bowling Green in 1988 and am a proud Falcon,” she told the candidates. “This place is very special to me because I had a blast here and met amazing people who I still remain connected with today. But, just as important, my academic experience and internship opportunities through BGSU helped me figure out my professional path.”

This place is very special to me because I had a blast here and met amazing people who I still remain connected with today

At the Ohio EPA, “our leadership team faces decisions every day to help strike a balance between supporting growth and development in Ohio, but ensuring it’s done in ways that are protective and environmentally sustainable. This task is not always easy or simple, but what’s important is that we’re thoughtful in making good and fair decisions. … At the end of the day, what remains constant is that public service is a space where you can work each day to improve the quality of life for others. This is probably the single most important thing that motivates and energizes me every day.”

Prior to her appointment, Stevenson held the position of deputy director for Business Relations, where she served as a primary contact for regulated entities to help coordinate permitting activities within the agency. She also served as chief of Ohio EPA’s Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance (DEFA). DEFA provides financial and technical assistance to businesses and communities to help achieve compliance with environmental regulations.

“In the environmental world, I reflect on what has happened within my lifetime and career,” she said. “Fifty years ago, the Cuyahoga River, running through downtown Cleveland, was literally on fire because of industrial pollution. Today, the river is emerging as a recreational destination for tourists and kayakers. The Cuyahoga River fires were the catalyst for the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972. As a result, today we can turn on our faucets to drink clean water, we breathe clean air and communities are better protected from the harmful effects of illegal dumping and discharge of chemicals."

It’s taken a lot of work from lawmakers, scientists, regulators, academics, advocates and other stakeholders to successfully address these environmental challenges, Stevenson said. 

“These examples demonstrate that what may seem to be an insurmountable task ahead of you can be addressed within your lifetime, and within the span of your career,” she said. “Today’s environmental challenges aren’t about addressing burning rivers in Ohio, but they are about addressing waterways that are plagued by harmful algae, threatened by invasive species and choked by litter and plastics. They are about addressing legacy disposal sites, upgrading aging water and wastewater infrastructure and maintaining air quality.

“There is still so much important work to do and your perspective, your skills and your energy will be a welcome addition to the team. … As you enter the workforce, wherever it may be, be ready to engage, provide your feedback, contribute, roll up your sleeves and make a difference.”

A native of Findlay, Stevenson earned a Master of Science in public health from The Ohio State University in addition to her BGSU degree. She resides in Columbus with her husband, Jeff, and three children.