Focus on Faculty: Julia M. Gohlke

Julia M. Gohlke
Julia M. Gohlke

Julia M. Gohlke is an assistant professor of environmental health in the Department of Population Health Sciences. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Michigan and completed both a master’s degree and doctorate in environmental health from the University of Washington. Gohlke joined the college in 2015 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health and is a member of the Society for Toxicology and Teratology Society.

I grew up outside of Milton, West Virginia. I’ve lived in different parts of the U.S. since then—Ann Arbor, Chicago, Seattle, Chapel Hill, Washington D.C., and Birmingham. I’m happy to be closer to home now!
What are your current responsibilities at the college? If you teach, what do you teach?
I am in the Department of Population Health Sciences and am part of the Master of Public Health (MPH) faculty with research, teaching, and service responsibilities. I teach Environmental Health, which is a core course for MPH students.
When did you come to the college, and what brought you here?
I arrived here in August 2015. I came from being on faculty at University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health for five years. Coming from experiences in traditional schools of public health, the thing that really excited me about Virginia Tech’s public health program is that it’s building from a strong foundation of areas not traditionally associated with public health (e.g., strengths in veterinary medicine, natural resources, bioinformatics, agriculture, and engineering). This unique perspective on public health translates into an energizing and creative environment for research.
What interests you about your field?
Environmental health combines the natural environment and human health. I was originally very interested in evolutionary theory and anthropology, and then I realized I wanted my career to more directly address issues the human species is facing right now — public health fit the bill. By examining how the environment affects our health, both over a short (within individuals) and longer time horizon (e.g., across generations), I think we can broaden our understanding of how we will best adapt to our changing environment.
What is your area of research? Why did you decide to focus on that area?
My current research focuses on health implications of climate change and how this informs the fields of toxicology and risk assessment. We are examining differences in heat and air pollution exposure and health outcomes in urban and rural communities in Alabama, working with organizations representing underserved communities in both regions and climatologists to produce spatially resolved time trends. We are also examining combinations of different stressors (heat, diet, and chemical) in Daphnia pulex (a.k.a. the water flea). I am using D. pulex as a screening model system to identify potential interactions between physical environment, diet, and chemical exposures that could have subtle effects on lifespan and across generations. I decided to focus on exposures associated with climate change because of the human health significance and because the temporal and spatial scale challenges of traditional risk assessment methods.
Hobbies or interests outside of the college?
Hiking, camping, running, gardening, cooking, and going to my kid’s sporting events. I also take on some knitting and sewing projects every now and then. I just finished reupholstering a favorite chair, which was a partly fun and partly exasperating project.
Do you have any pets (names, breeds)?
We have a mixed breed dog named Bailey. We welcomed Pepper (kitten) this summer after responding to an email from Community Practice. She has been a very fun addition to the house, although I’m not sure Bailey agrees.
Share one thing students may not know about you.
Students probably wouldn’t guess that I really like drawing. At one point I thought about pursuing scientific illustration as a career. These days, doodling is about all of the pencil drawing I do, but I am often thinking about how I can incorporate better illustrations into my teaching and research, albeit mostly using computer software.
Anything else you wish to share?
I feel very lucky to be given the opportunity to pursue my career here. I look forward to continuing to get to know students and faculty and hope to build fruitful collaborations within the college and across the university.
Julia Gohlke
Julia Gohlke, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences, teaches Environmental Health and conducts research focused on health implications of climate change and how it informs the fields of toxicology and risk assessment.