STEER Inspires New Generation of Environmental Health Scholars

Photo: Tashnia Hossain
Tashnia Hossain

In the summer of 2015, nine talented undergraduates continued their learning outside the classroom through COEH’s program, Short Term Educational Experiences for Research in Environmental Health for Undergraduate Students (STEER), an eight week, paid internship that pairs students with mentors in the fields of toxicology, biology, epidemiology, exposure assessment, and ergonomics from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health (SPH).

Interns conduct a research project and participate in a series of interdisciplinary seminars introducing them to the field of environmental health sciences (EHS). Last summer, for example, Aishah Abdala investigated the long-term effects of early-life arsenic exposure on immune function. Luoping Zhang, her mentor, is associate director of the Genes and Environment Laboratory, associate director of the Benzene Health Effects Program, and an adjunct professor of EHS.

Molly McCullough worked on a pilot measuring the health benefits of replacing kerosene lamps with solar lighting in 20 households located in Busia County, Kenya. Her mentor, Michael Bates, is co-director of the STEER program and an adjunct professor in EHS. With funding from Google, the project is collecting evidence to suggest the switch from kerosene to solar will reduce household air pollution, a leading contributor to illness and mortality in the developing world.

Intern Dylan Avery took part in a study led by Principal Investigator Asa Bradman exploring potential chemical toxins in color markers used by children. Avery helped Bradman prepare journal articles by performing literature reviews and summarizing research results. Bradman, associate director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, is a leading expert on exposures to environmental contaminants and the new chair of Biomonitoring California’s Scientific Guidance Panel.

STEER — A Gateway to Opportunity

Many STEER interns progress to graduate school and careers in public health. Following her internship in 2014, Tashnia Hossain was accepted into the UC Berkeley EHS program. Her mentor and academic supervisor, Nina Holland, is director of the SPH Biorepository, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Laboratory, and an adjunct professor of EHS.

“STEER gave me an opportunity to get hands-on experience with various environmental health issues,” says Hossain. “I thank the program for further developing my interest in environmental health and allowing me to take part in research that was challenging and unlike anything I had ever done before.”

Photo: Marvin So
Marvin So

Marvin So, who went on to a MPH at Harvard after interning in 2011, is now an evaluation officer at the CDC National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. He conducts research to assess the efficacy of interventions to mitigate child developmental outcomes, particularly for vulnerable children and those with special needs. Currently, his team is developing a monitoring system for children affected by the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

For his internship, So participated in a sensor study with mentor and former STEER Co-Director, Amanda Northcross, now a professor at the School of Public Health at George Washington University. “Being able conceptualize and execute my own research questions, participate in all aspects of the research process, from calibrating scales to running statistical analyses, as well as presenting findings to peers and scientists, was exhilarating.” His STEER experience showed him “that rigorous, valid measurement is at the core of public health science and is necessary for understanding how environmental exposures connect to human health outcomes.”

COEH faculty affiliate Sadie Costello is the new director of the STEER program, which is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “Every year I am impressed with the intelligence and enthusiasm of our interns and to have so many of them continue on to be accepted into MPH programs with a focus in Environmental Health Science is extremely gratifying.”

Learn more about the STEER program at http://steer.berkeley.edu.

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