Paid Internships Attract Students to Occupational and Environmental Health


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Each year, COEH awards nine week summer internships to undergraduate students. The program titled, “Short Term Educational Experiences for Research in Environmental Health for Undergraduate Students,” or STEER, pairs interns with mentors in such fields as toxicology, biology, epidemiology, exposure assessment, ergonomics, and geospatial analysis from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

Interns carry out a short research project and participate in a series of inter-disciplinary seminars that introduce them to the breadth of environmental health sciences.

Since its inception in 2008, the success of the STEER program has continued to grow. In 2012, STEER funded nine applicants, while three UC Berkeley professors each funded one additional applicant, for a total of twelve interns.

A Snapshot of STEER Projects

“STEER was an internship program that exceeded all of my expectations,” says intern Shalika Gupta. “Our field trips and guest speakers provided valuable perspectives on different careers and applications of environmental health both in and outside of academia.”

Intern Andrew Budsock, an undergraduate studying ecology at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA, investigated the effects of flooding on the disease pathway of the liver fluke Opisthorchis viverrini in Khon Kaen Province, Thailand. His STEER mentor, Elizabeth Carlton, focuses her research on the re-emergence of the parasitic disease schistosomiasis in southwest China.

“Andrew helped us to develop a system to monitor flooding patterns in Northeast Thailand as part of a larger effort to understand water-borne disease patterns in the region,” explains Carlton. “Andrew’s skillful work with satellite images contributed to our understanding of hydrological conditions. Thanks to Andrew’s work and STEER’s support, we have now placed a series of water-level monitors in the region and are awaiting our first installment of data, once the flood waters recede. ”

Jaclyn Guerrero, an undergraduate from UC Berkeley, spent the summer assisting with the CHAMACOS Youth Community Council (YCC), an environmental health leadership group in Salinas, CA. Her internship focused on the YCC’s principal project, a Community Walkability Survey, which identifies obstacles to physical activity.

Her mentors included COEH member Brenda Eskenazi and Daniel Madrigal. Eskenazi is the principal investigator and director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health. Madrigal is the coordinator of Community Outreach for the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas project, or CHAMACOS.

Guerrero led sessions on scientific methods, research ethics, and survey design, and she also assisted the youth as they administered the survey. “Jaclyn’s enthusiasm helped motivate youth members as they learned about how neighborhood characteristics impact health,” notes Madrigal. “By training youth leaders in environmental health topics, Jaclyn’s STEER internship will be sure to have a lasting impact with the youth and within their community.”

“It was great to interact with so many different professionals, each with their own expertise, to develop concrete solutions to complex problems. After completing STEER, I feel like I have become better equipped to develop these solutions, a skill that will prove to be invaluable in my future academic studies,” notes intern Andrew Budsock.

Another intern from UC Berkeley, Shalika Gupta, participated in a project called, “Race and Place: Environmental Justice in Fresno, California.” Her mentors, Elizabeth Noth and COEH member Katharine Hammond, are co-investigators with the Fresno Asthmatic Children’s Environment Study, which examines the health effects of air pollution in children with asthma.

“While I’m still deciding on my exact plans for graduate school,” says Gupta, “the STEER program reaffirmed my interest in the environmental health sciences and has broadened my understanding of the different ways I can incorporate this passion into my future career plans.”

STEER interns frequently point out how the program shapes their academic careers. “Prior to STEER, I was unaware that I could use my knowledge as an Ecology Major in Environmental Health Sciences,” reports Budsock. “Now I know that I can pursue a graduate degree and eventually a career in Public Health.”

Co-directors of the STEER program are Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology Michael Bates and Research Scientist Amanda Northcross, both from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

“Environmental health is not commonly taught at the undergraduate level and the STEER program has had tremendous success in enthusing students about the field. Interns have a great time in the program and it often refocuses their ideas about graduate studies,” says Bates.

Undergraduate students can apply for 2013 STEER internships online. For information, visit: http://steer.berkeley.edu.

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