2023 Tillman Scholar

Rebecca Patterson

University of Maryland
Ph.D., Environmental Health Sciences

“As an environmental health advocate, I focus on actions that protect the health of service members, veterans, military families, and their communities from military-related chemical contamination.”

Rebecca Patterson served six years in the U.S. Navy and deployed to the Persian Gulf in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Upon separation, she attended the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM) to earn her B.S. in chemistry. While at UWM, she served as president of the Student Veterans of America chapter and the inaugural veteran advocacy senator in Student Association.

After learning about the use of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and conducting further research, Rebecca continued her education at the University of Maryland and earned a  M.P.H. in environmental health sciences. She then worked at Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) for several years, where she focused on the health impacts of military related chemical contamination.  Among other topics, she advocated for policies to reduce per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure and clean up water contamination originating from the use of aqueous film—forming foam (AFFF). This work led her to the broader issue of widespread chemical contamination on Department of Defense (DoD) installations, and spurred her decision to return to UMD in 2022 to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental health sciences.

Rebecca plans to use the knowledge that she gained and relationships that she built through her work in the veteran advocacy space to shape her research questions, in an effort to conduct relevant and applicable research for the military-affiliated community. Rebecca is also a UMD Global STEWARDS NSF NRT Fellow and volunteers with several veteran nonprofits, including The Mission Continues and Fields 4 Valor Farms.