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November 29, 2023

Ensuring Safety in Research Environments

By Vicki Mayk

Jessica Huey stands in front of natural background of grass and trees.

Jessica (Bolden) Huey ’10 has combined early career experiences working in laboratories with an advanced degree in safety science to forge a career ensuring workplace environments are safe. As an environmental health safety specialist at Krystal Biotech Inc., a Pittsburgh-based manufacturing company focusing on gene therapies, she works to ensure employee safety and environmental compliance with local, state and federal regulations.

Huey says her childhood affinity for animals was what first put her on a path to a science career.

“I was mute for the first four years of my life. The best way to get me to talk was to introduce animals into my life. My father would bring home stray animals and I would help take care of them, providing health updates,” Huey says.

She learned about Kutztown University at a college fair at Woodland Hills High School in suburban Pittsburgh. KU combined a rural location – “I love the mix of rural, suburban and city environments” — with proximity to Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C. Arriving on campus, she found a mentor and role model in Dr. Anne Zayaitz, former provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, who was then a member of the biology faculty. Zayaitz encouraged Huey to be a critical thinker while facilitating her transition to college.

“She never forced anything on us. She just gave us the opportunity to think for ourselves,” Huey recalls.

The personal attention from faculty and the wealth of field experiences in her major prepared her for an enviable first job after graduation, as a husbandry technician at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. It was a division headed by a scientist destined to become a household name: Dr. Anthony Fauci. Huey was animal caretaker for the thousands of domesticated, wild and exotic animals used in research, and worked closely with researchers developing vaccines and other therapies.

“In addition to Dr. Zayaitz, other biology faculty, such as Dr. Carol Mapes, Dr. Chris Sacchi, Dr. Todd Underwood, and Dr. William Towne, helped me to understand how the various science fields operated in the real world, allowing me to stand out as a curious and critical thinker in each career role. Frequently, I was asked to train other employees and to develop procedures. I was also able to deal with more risky research models because of my handling and care techniques, observation skills and work ethic,” she says.

A return to Pittsburgh to help care for her parents led to positions as a husbandry supervisor and laboratory coordinator at the University of Pittsburgh and its school of medicine. She also worked as a veterinary anesthetist in a veterinary specialty hospital. During that time, she earned a Master of Science degree in safety science from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The degree allows her to combine her knowledge of research environments, risk management, personnel health and safety with the tools necessary to help ensure safe working conditions for a diverse workplace that includes researchers, manufacturing teams and support business units.

Her first job in the field was with GSK, a leading pharmaceutical company, at its facility in Rockville, Md. As part of an environmental health and safety (EHS) team, Huey helped ensure the facility complied with regulations set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other agencies.

One aspect of the job – educating employees about workplace safety risks – became especially challenging during the COVID 19 pandemic. “My proactiveness and experience in research helped the EHS department mitigate a lot of the risks that could have impacted the site’s progress, and employee morale,” she says.

In 2022, she joined Krystal Biotech, this time as a one-woman department overseeing environmental health and safety. She’s also been able to pursue a long-time dream – one that dates back to her childhood love of animals. She and her husband, Richard, have purchased an 82-acre farm in Pennsylvania. “My passion has always been to have my own farm,” she said.

Jessica (Bolden) Huey is a 2010 graduate of Kutztown's Biology program.

This article originally appeared in the 2023 Tower Magazine.

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