Monthly Archives: October 2017

Ali E.: An Informational Interview with an Environmental Health Officer

An Informational Interview with an Environmental Health Officer

By Ali E.

During these past few weeks at my internship, I’ve met a handful of different environmental health officers (EHOs) who all have varying interests, backgrounds, and stories. I’ve learned the different ways they ended up within the Office of Environmental Health in the Indian Health Service, and where they see themselves going in the future. Of all these people, there was one in particular who had a really interesting career path and who participated in an informational interview with me.

Learning how to conduct a pool survey

I met Kate a few weeks into my internship because she’s the EHO within our district with the most experience with pools. Because my project for the summer dealt with pools, I was able to go visit her field office for a few days. I learned the ins and outs of pool surveys, including debriefing with the pool operators, checking safety equipment, testing pool chemical levels, checking equipment maintenance, checking for proper documentation and chemical use, and above all how to give recommendations on how to improve the facility. Aside from learning how to properly and thoroughly conduct a pool survey, I learned a lot about Kate’s history that led her to where she is today.

Kate got her bachelor’s degree in exercise sport science because she was an athlete and loved sports and considered becoming an OT. She signed up for a Master of Public Administration program, but after a year changed to environmental health. Like me, she kind of stumbled unknowingly into environmental health because she liked the electives it offered.

The interesting part of Kate’s educational background is that she did an online master’s program that she spread out over the course of six years, which allowed her to travel around the world and work in various jobs while completing her degree. Prior to this summer, I hadn’t met a lot of people who had done their master’s degrees online, but I learned about the many advantages, as well as disadvantages, to going the online route. Kate is currently looking at getting a graduate certificate in epidemiology because her long-term goal is to get her doctorate and to work abroad, potentially with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doing environmental health work. I didn’t know that certificates existed before meeting Kate, and she showed me that there are a multitude of ways to go about education at the graduate level, and that there is plenty of time to do so. I personally want to take some time off before pursuing a master’s to work in different settings to find my niche. Kate showed me that it isn’t necessary to rush through your education just to get a degree, but that it’s more valuable to take time to find what you’re really passionate about.

Hien N.: About My Internship with Snohomish Health District

About My Internship with Snohomish Health District

By Hien N.

I’ll be interning at Snohomish Health District in Everett, Washington for 10 weeks. As an intern, I will shadow environmental health specialists throughout the field. One project I know I’ll be working on is a risk factor study on temporary event violations; this project will show what the common violations are at temporary events such as carnivals, fairs, and others.

I will most likely be assigned to more projects throughout my internship in other sections of the environmental health division. I will work with a large number of people at Snohomish Health District; I don’t think I’ll have a specific mentor. However, I know there will be people I work with more than others, so they are like mentors.

I’m most excited to learn more about daily environmental health–the knowledge and expertise that everyday health specialists use to do their jobs. I still haven’t taken every core environmental health class yet, so I’m excited to learn from this internship what I can’t learn in classes.

This is my first internship. Because it is brand new to me, I’m nervous about this overall experience. I guess I’m most nervous about a new environment with new people. However, I get along with others readily, so I don’t think making friends with people will be a challenge.

This internship has been an option for UW environmental health students for a while now. They like to host multiple interns from UW each summer. I was the only intern they are hosting this summer. I found this internship through emails and the DEOHS portal page. They sent out letters that included details about the internship, I emailed the email listed with my cover letter and resume. Soon, I received an email back for an interview and moved on from there.

Kathleen Y.: An Informational Interview with a Food Inspector

An Informational Interview with a Food Inspector

By Kathleen Y.

Kathleen Y. inspecting a pool

I conducted an interview with Amber, an Environmental Health Specialist in the food program at the Pierce County Health Department. My interview was also a dual job shadow, since I had the opportunity to follow her on several food inspections. Throughout the job shadow, we stopped at a few different types of restaurants, including a fast food restaurant, a diner, and a sushi restaurant. It was a really interesting experience to watch Amber at work. She was very much in control and confident in her work, and she was not afraid to ask the difficult questions during her inspections. It felt a little hectic at times as we entered some kitchens during a lunch rush, but Amber was able to do her job efficiently while still being thorough.

Between inspections, I had the chance to ask her a few questions about her professional background. Amber completed her undergraduate degree at Washington State University with a major in biology. She had a diverse number of jobs before starting her position as a food inspector at the health department. She worked as a restaurant manager, as a phlebotomist at a blood bank, and as a clerical employee at the same blood bank. She said a family member informed her of the position at the health department, and she has been working there for the last three years.

When asked about her favorite aspects of her job, Amber said that she enjoys being able to talk to many different types of people while working and not being stuck in an office all day. She also said she enjoys being able to help to improve facilities’ health and safety practices as she encounters many teaching opportunities during her inspections. When asked about the negative aspects of her job, Amber said that she is often met with confrontation during her inspections. During my short time job shadowing her, I myself noticed how restaurant managers and employees could be defensive about some of their practices. Amber said that she has caught restaurant employees in outright lies, some even trying to hide food that they know have been improperly prepared. Although it could be difficult at times, Amber says that she enjoys her work and that her time at the Pierce County Health Department has been an overall positive experience.

Bowen L.: About My Internship

About My Internship

By Bowen L.

Bowen measures exposure by bicycle in Chengdu.

As I mentioned in the last blog, my internship over the summer was a research project that mainly targets community-level and personal exposure to air and noise pollution in Chengdu, China in this summer. In this blog, I am going to describe my activities for this internship.

There were two primary studies in this project: the stationary community study and the mobile commute study. In the community study, we selected four sites within the inner ring and four sites on the outer ring of Chengdu city as our measurement sites. Based on our discussions and findings, people who live or spend a lot of time at these sites were susceptible to be exposed to heavy air and noise pollution because of either the heavy traffic, road construction, or the presence of other aerosol producers there. Also, on the roof of CDC office building, we set up a bulky community air monitor to collect long-time measurements.

In the mobile commute study, we had three pre-determined routes that represented high, medium, and low personal exposure to air and noise pollution. We made measurements while we traveled on these routes by different transportation means. We also had a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route added for investigating people’s exposure on the newly constructed transportation mode in this city. For both studies, we wanted to investigate the level of exposure by measuring the concentration of various aerosol components such as particular matter and black carbon. We also used other supplementary measurements, such as GPS and accelerator data, to help us plot a geographic exposure map.

My routine daily work comprised field work and office time. Each day I went to the field, traveled on the route, took measurements, and then returned to the office to meet and upload our findings to the database. We usually did the field work first in the morning, but later we recognized the need to expand the time range of measurements. We had flexible field work and office hours in a day. I had a lot of challenges during the field work. For many days, the weather was quite hot and sometimes there were storms. Our work sometimes would be questioned and we’d be stopped by police officers and even citizens concerned that we might interfere the traffic. Each day, there was a long distance to travel by foot, bike, and automobile. Even though my field work was strenuous, I felt a sense of achievement. I believed it was worthy because someday the measurements would potentially help people to choose the best route for their commute.

Tayna T.: Finding an Internship You’re Passionate About

Finding an Internship You’re Passionate About

By Tayna T.

Tayna at her desk at UW EH&S

I am interning at the UW Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department as a compliance analyst. UW Environmental Health and Safety department is responsible for providing a safe work place on campus by identifying the hazards, evaluating the risk associated with the work environment, and developing preventative procedures and policies that are in compliance with federal and state regulations. In addition, EH&S offers safety training for UW employees and students. Besides overseeing the occupational safety program at the UW, EH&S also administers programs pertaining to environmental hygiene such as hazardous waste and recycling. My supervisor is the assistant director of the occupational health and safety unit within the EH&S department. People I work with are the industrial hygienist, the accident prevention hygienist, fleet manager, and more.

I will develop a safety program for golf carts and low speed vehicles (LSV) by benchmarking data, visiting different departments at UW, and writing a white paper. I will have to research and summarize the golf cart safety programs of universities across the nation, focusing on elements such as program ownership, training procedures, and maintenance. By learning how programs at other universities operate, I hope to develop a good program that includes all successful aspects of a golf cart safety program. I will also visit several departments on campus to collect data about the golf carts and LSV. The data will help me assess the current issues at the UW and address the problems pertinent to the UW in my white paper.

I’m not familiar with regulations regarding golf carts and LSV. Therefore, I’m excited about learning how to amalgamate what I read in those regulatory documents and the data I collect into a paper–one that can convince the stakeholders to adopt the program. The thing that I’m thrilled about is also the thing makes me nervous. I have never worked at an occupational health and safety department before, let alone written any important document. In addition, I have only taken two environmental health classes in my major, and none of the two classes emphasizes employee safety.

I saw a job opening one day on a UW work study website while I was browsing to look for new job openings, since my current one had ended. Then I saw that the UW EH&S department was looking for a compliance analyst intern to work on developing a golf cart and LSV safety program. As an environmental health and occupational safety major, I could not ignore this opportunity. I applied but did not think that I would get hired because I had no experience working in an occupational safety field. All I had was my passion and fourteen plus years of education, along with communication skills I am not one hundred percent confident of. Putting aside my pessimism, I applied. The person whom I contacted, my future supervisor, asked me to come I for an interview. I was hired afterward!

At the UW EH&S, each division has its own corner. For instance, the occupational health and safety division that I work at is located at a corner with four offices and a meeting room. The structure of the floor conveniently organizes the composition of the department as a whole. It feels as though I have my own group of people within the department on whom I can rely. Everyone I met was friendly and helpful. For example, if my co-workers find useful information on golf cart and LSV regulations or information that related to the project I am working on, they inform me. My supervisor also helps me tremendously by showing me how to find and use the correct information. More importantly, she guides me through my first time working as a compliance analyst intern.

Bowen L.: How I Found My International Internship

How I Found My International Internship

By Bowen L.

For my internship, I worked in Chengdu China on a research project led by Professor Edmund Seto of our department at UW Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences. We worked with people from Sichuan Center of Disease Control and Prevention. The project mainly aimed to investigate personal exposure to air and noise pollution in Chengdu city over this summer and to assess the effectiveness of both the conventional and novel measurement instruments. In this blog, I am going to share the story of how I got this internship.

Bowen measures exposure by bicycle in Chengdu.

It was not easy at first when I started to apply for internships. I sent application materials to many companies, but I received few responses from them. At that time my resume was very weak. I had little experience and did not have many skills in writing a resume. So I turned to Hayley Leventhal, our career counselor. I began to arrange meetings with Hayley, and we had many great discussions. She taught me a lot of writing skills such as what should be emphasized and omitted. Then I started to revise my resume over and over. I sent my edited versions to Hayley, and she would point out strengths and weaknesses. I learned new things each time from her. Later, I began to receive interview requests from some corporations. I believed I had improved. However, interview skills were another challenge for me. I was rejected sometimes because there was another candidate who did better in the interview session. There is a saying that interview is a skill that can not be learned from book but from experience. I did not doubt that and believed I would need more interview experience.

Fortunately, it was by chance I heard that Professor Seto would carry out a research project in my hometown Chengdu, China over this summer. I was very excited to hear about this news. I reached out to Professor Seto and expressed my passion about joining this project. We arranged to meet several days later. Before I went to the meeting, I prepared myself by going over background knowledge that I had learned in class about air and noise pollution. I also looked up information about current air quality in Chengdu.

In the meeting, I think I left a good first impression on Professor Seto. I showed confidence in my knowledge of the urban road and green design and I also demonstrated my proficiency in instrument operation. Professor Seto thought it would be very helpful to have me contribute to this project, so I was selected to be involved in the project right after the meeting.

Overall, my words for new applicants are: keep digging, the one that is right for you will come to you.

Nick M.: My Experience as a Food Lab Intern

My Experience as a Food Lab Intern

By Nick M.

Nick M. in the lab.

This summer I interned at the Department of Health Public Health Laboratories working in the Food Lab. My main focus has been assisting with the Vibrio Project, which monitors levels of the bacterium Vibrio Parahaemolyticus during the summer when the water is warm enough for the bacteria to proliferate.

When I first started my internship, I was most excited about gaining practical knowledge/experience in my field of study. I had taken most of the related classes and felt that I had at least an idea of what was going on, but I had no hands-on experience outside of classroom labs. The internship program has really helped me to understand what working in a lab is like. I was able to observe work in other labs as well as in my own. The program also gave me the opportunity to apply my learning from class towards a tangible product. While this is just an example of the type of work I could do in the future, it was very useful for me to experience it for myself. I also appreciated talking to my coworkers and hearing about what the experiences that brought them to the lab.

While I do feel that I took away a lot of practical experience from this program, the takeaway that seems most valuable is the connections I made throughout. At work, it was almost like having a career panel that you went back to everyday. Everyone in the lab was very eager to share their career path and advice, which gave me free reign with all of my questions. I found it extremely helpful to hear all of this information and build these relationships so that I can continue to learn from them and ask questions in the future. After this experience, I feel more prepared, and at least a little more comfortable in finding a career path that best fits my goals in the near future.