Black History Month: Recognizing Two Young NIOSH Researchers

Posted on by Jenise Brassell, M.S.

During Black History Month, NIOSH is proud to recognize two young African American women who are paving the way for other minorities in the field of safety and health research. At NIOSH, we recognize the importance of a diverse scientific workforce that mirrors the diversity of today’s workforce and society as a whole.

Deborah Hirst Picture DSC_0384
LCDR Deborah V.L. Hirst, Ph.D., P.E.

LCDR Deborah V.L. Hirst, Ph.D., P.E., is a civil and environmental health engineer with the Division of Applied Research and Technology (DART), Engineering and Physical Hazards Branch (EPHB) in Cincinnati, OH. In 2003, Dr. Hirst earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). In 2006, she received her doctorate in environmental health engineering also from UAB. Dr. Hirst is a licensed professional engineer in Ohio.

For nearly 10 years, she has researched and evaluated engineering control technology to reduce workers’ exposures to occupational safety and health hazards. Her work has included research on hazardous occupational air contaminants including: diacetyl and other flavorings, formaldehyde, 1-bromopropane (1-BP), indium-tin oxide, and hazardous drugs. She is also a contributing author for several NIOSH criteria documents. In 2011, Dr. Hirst completed her research on measuring airborne formaldehyde using different techniques, such as laboratory-based methods and direct-reading instruments. Formaldehyde exposure was a concern for those staying in temporary housing following hurricane Katrina. The study provided the only documented evaluation of the two formaldehyde direct-reading monitors. Because of this research, Deborah was recognized with an Outstanding Unit Commendation as part of the larger Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) temporary housing unit (THU) response effort.

Dr. Hirst’s recent research efforts have focused on reducing healthcare worker exposure to hazardous drugs. She currently has three research hazardous drug projects. One study is evaluating the efficacy of a Type C high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter for the capture and containment of selected hazardous drugs within a laboratory and real-world setting. She is also co-project officer for the development of an evaluation performance protocol on closed-system transfer devices (CSTDs) for hazardous drugs. Her third project aims to bridge the gap between the protective technology and work-practices used for hazardous drugs within human healthcare and those that are used in veterinary medicine. The project will develop guidance that is specific to the unique working environments within veterinary medicine.

Dr. Hirst is very involved in mentoring students. She has been involved with Winton Woods High School Advisory Board for Project Lead the Way (PLTW) since 2010. PLTW is the leading provider of rigorous and innovative Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education curricular programs used in middle and high schools across the U.S. She contributes to the selection of projects/curriculum and proactively uses her position on the advisory board to introduce students to the concept of applying engineering skills for the advancement of public health. Specifically, she mentors both faculty and students to share the message that engineers can save workers’ lives through the application of prevention through design engineering in the workplace. She has also worked on increasing the enrollment of female students in the program. Deborah also serves as a connector who helps guide engineers and students through the Public Health Service application and commissioning process. Since her time at NIOSH, Dr. Hirst has mentored summer engineering students on the value of becoming a licensed engineer and where their career can take them. She has also worked with other engineering officers in developing outreach and promotion program initiatives in other cities.

LT Melissa Seaton, M.S.

Lieutenant Melissa Seaton was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She received her B.S. from the University of Michigan and her M.S. from Harvard School of Public Health. LT Seaton has been with NIOSH for more than 4 years in the Education and Information Division (EID).  She is currently the project officer for a cross-Institute effort known as Occupational Exposure Banding. In this role, she leads a team in the development of written guidance, electronic tools, interactive trainings, and communication products.

LT Seaton is committed to diversity at NIOSH.  As a representative for the NIOSH Diversity Steering Council, she has worked with other representatives to plan diversity and inclusion events.  Though still in an early stage in her career, LT Seaton is enthusiastic about mentorship and working with students. This past summer, LT Seaton mentored two student interns through the IMHOTEP program. She given several talks to young students about opportunities in public health, including two presentations to pre-health students at the University of Cincinnati through the Professional Practice and Experiential Learning (ProPEL) program, two seminar to student interns at NIOSH, and one presentation to the t.Lab Accelerated Learning Centers in Detroit, Michigan. LT Seaton has personally connected with students interested in careers in science, government, or the Commissioned Corps through one-on-one meetings, phone calls, and sharing information online.

LT Seaton has a passion for service.  She has deployed three times in support of the 2014-2105 CDC Ebola Response, including two international deployments to Sierra Leone, West Africa.  In addition , she has dedicated countless volunteer hours as a team lead for Give Back Cincinnati, a non-profit organization dedicated to local and global philanthropic initiatives and shaping future visionary leaders. In this capacity she has traveled to provide humanitarian support services in Ohio, Louisiana, Nepal, and Tanzania. Her passion for service stems from the fact that she has had countless people who have mentored her throughout her life and she still benefits immensely from these mentorship relationships. She feels very fortunate to have a dedicated group of people who foster her creativity, develop her skills, and support her career.


Jenise Brassell, M.S. is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of the Director


Posted on by Jenise Brassell, M.S.

11 comments on “Black History Month: Recognizing Two Young NIOSH Researchers”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Congratulations to LCDR Hirst and LT Seaton for being featured in honor of Black History Month! I wish to sincerely thank each of you for your dedication to worker health as well as to the communities in which you live. And, thank you for being such good role models for young women considering pursuing STEM education and careers. Wishing you both continued success in your careers!

    So nice to see Deborah Hirst FINALLY being recognized (although it took for it to be during “Black History Month”). Congratulations Deborah and Melissa! Well deserved write up.

    Excellent choices for Black History Month in celebrating two of NIOSH’S brightest and best! I personally participated in Melissa’s presentation to a group of t. Lab students (ACT/SAT prep). It was a very impactful presentation to the students who were aspiring to reach higher goals in education and preparation for their future success.

    Congratulations to Lt. Melissa Seaton! You are truly a role model and inspiration for all.
    Your legacy, diligence and focus will result in greater accomplishments and acknowledgements!

    Dr. Clarence Nixon, Jr.,

    We at NIOSH are so fortunate to have these two Officers in our Corps ! They are outstanding role models for those who are looking for a path of both service and research — inspiring! Thank you for your work and dedication towards occupational safety and health for all, and for working to increase minority scientists and diversity both at NIOSH and in the work sector!

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Page last reviewed: March 12, 2018
Page last updated: March 12, 2018