My Internship Experience
By Amanda M.
In the conversations I have with community members, I can tell that smoke and wildfires are constantly on everyone’s mind. In the Methow Valley in central Washington, where I am interning, there have been a significant number of wildfires during the last few years. The people here have seen fires pass through right next to their homes. Some of their homes are still standing today and others have not been so lucky. I’m working hand in hand with the Methow Valley Clean Air Project, a nonprofit whose goal is to educate citizens about air quality issues and improve the air quality with attainable goals. I’m excited by my internship because it is a great opportunity for me to work on a project that will have a big impact on people in this community.
The main project I’m working on is placing a network of low-cost air sensors across the Methow Valley. With grant money and sponsorship from community members, we have twenty PurpleAir monitors that I am placing at homes, businesses, and schools. These monitors are a great supplement to the two federal air monitors in the area because they report air quality data in real time. Through some research I’ve done I discovered that the PurpleAir monitors may report a higher concentration of PM2.5 than is actually present in the air. I’m collaborating with other people who have more experience with data validation to correct this.
Many of the skills that I am using during my internship are ones I have built through group projects in many of my environmental health classes. When I think about it now, working at an organization is just like working on a group project in class but on a larger scale. I’m collaborating with many different individuals and organizations to get key stakeholders of the community involved with the project. This requires good communication skills and an organized approach on my end. I highly recommend diving into group projects whole-heartedly because they will give you good experience for working on your internship and someday when you have a real job (I hope!).
About my Internship at the Okanogan County Public Health Department
By Katelyn K.
My internship for the summer contains two parts. One is working for the Okanogan County Public Health Department, and the other is doing research under the Environmental Health Research Experience Program (EHREP) through the University of Washington. At the Okanogan Health Department, I shadow the environmental health specialists during their daily tasks. Many of these tasks include doing food inspections, pool inspections, septic system evaluations, handling environmental health complaints, and mapping/inspecting wells. For EHREP, I am helping the health department improve public service announcements during wildfire smoke events, as well as their N95 mask distribution system. I created a survey for the general public asking questions about wildfire smoke and I am currently handing out flyers to get people to participate in the study.
Katie collecting a soil sample from a septic system test hole.
Throughout my time here, I learned that two of the most important skills for working in this field are social skills and being able to communicate effectively. Proprietors are often unhappy when you tell them to close their restaurant down because it is a health hazard, and homeowners can get defensive when you come onto their property explaining they need to clean up their solid waste piles. Working for the health department, one must know (or learn quickly) how to appropriately act during these situations. You must ensure the public understands you are there as a helpful resource and not as a threat. Another necessary skill is to be able to work independently. On some days, there isn’t any fieldwork, which means you must find work around the office. There have been times when I have kept myself busy by making pamphlets about N95 masks since there is a lot of public demand for them. It is not always possible to wait for directions from your supervisors; you must be comfortable doing productive things on your own.
One of the biggest parts of my internship is collecting responses for my survey regarding N95 masks. To be successful, I am relying on everyone at the health department to support me and get the word out about the survey. They have been very helpful by stopping at the town halls, businesses, and gas stations to hand out flyers advertising my survey. In addition to the health department, I have received a lot of support from two professors in the Environmental Health department at the UW. They helped me write my survey questions, check up on me weekly, and answer any questions I may have regarding my research about N95 mask distribution here at the Okanogan Health Department.
How I got my Internship at Okanogan County Public Health
By Katelyn K.
Searching for an internship and successfully being selected as an intern was a challenging process. Applying for internships for the summer of 2018 taught me that jobs do not come easy and sometimes you end up doing something completely different than what you originally expected. When applying for internships, I had no idea I would end up at the Okanogan County Health Department. I am grateful because this has been an amazing experience and I have learned more than I imagined. Time tends to move fast and it is important to apply for internships early in the year. Over the year, I found many internships that sounded interesting to me but their deadlines had already passed. This has taught me to do a better job of staying on top of looking for different jobs/internships before it is too late.
Katie holding a purple air monitor that she set up outside of the health department.
I started out clueless about the internship process, which is why taking the ENV H 480 class in the fall was beneficial to me. I learned the steps in making myself marketable depending on the internship and adjusting my resume and cover letter depending on key words in the job description. The environmental health portal was extremely helpful for me because I could see different internship opportunities along with a link to the description and the deadline to apply. In addition to the help from the department, I used other online websites such as Glassdoor to find different internships.
Some of the questions I was asked during my interviews came as a surprise to me. One company that I interviewed with used a behavioral interview style, which I had never heard of before ENV H 480. The length of time it took to complete one of my phone interviews came as a shock because I did not expect it to take an entire hour to answer five behavioral interview questions. Lastly, I did not expect how long it took some of the companies to respond back to me. This can make it difficult while deciding to accept an internship offer because there may be another one that you would prefer but you haven’t heard back from that one yet.
My advice to future students is to be open-minded when searching for internships. Getting into an internship program takes time and waiting for the perfect one may not be the best approach. Apply to every internship that sounds interesting because this will give you more options when it’s time to decide which internship is right for you. Having the opportunity to interview at several places is good practice because you cannot expect to be perfect the first time. In the long run, this interview practice may help you secure a job at a company you really want to work for.