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Abron Challenges Students at UVA to Take On Environmental Policy Issues

Jordy Yager

The first African American woman to ever receive a PhD in chemical engineering told students at the University of Virginia that they’ve got a job to do.

As a young congressional intern in 1964 Lilia Abron watched from the visitor’s balcony as lawmakers passed the landmark Civil Rights Act. Less than 10 years later, she graduated with her doctorate from the University of Iowa — the first black woman in her field.

On Monday she told students at UVA’s Batten School that she knew as a young person she wanted to help people, but didn’t exactly know how. Until she read Rachel Carson’s seminal book on the chemical industry and the environment.

“Somewhere along the way, I read the Silent Spring, scared me to death,” said Abron. “I had no idea that our world was in that shape. That’s when I knew if the world was going to survive, I was going to have to do it.”

Abron, who turned 73 last week, went on to found an international environmental engineering consulting firm. She reminded students that they have a key role, especially under the Trump administration, which has threatened many of the country's environmental safeguards and policies.

“Yes, you all do have a responsibility,” said Abron. “The environment is all about clean water, clean air, clean land, and healthy communities. You have the responsibility to write public policy that ensures that and does not deviate.”