By Julia Duvall
This summer, students from Western Carolina University’s Environmental Health Sciences program will get the opportunity to get hands-on experience in health departments in eight of North Carolina’s westernmost counties.
Students will complete a 400-hour, 10-week internship at one of the health departments in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain and Transylvania counties.
Environmental health is the branch of public health that focuses on the interrelationships between people and their environment, promotes human health and well-being, and fosters healthy and safe communities.
This partnership is possible due to workforce development funds allocated for environmental health in Western North Carolina to increase resources and manpower for area health departments.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Brian Byrd, WCU’s Environmental Health Sciences program director. “Some local health departments will share an intern and our students will get to experience everything from food safety to mosquito control while working on projects to present at the end of the 10 weeks. The student projects can help the local health departments as they sometimes have unmet capacity needs. These internships and projects not only help the student but can be of value to the health department and thus our larger community.”
Through the workforce development funding, students will receive a $1,500 stipend to cover travel expenses for the 10 weeks. In addition, each internship site will receive an $8,000 internship stipend.
"We are pleased to make this fiscal and strategic investment for workforce development,” said Elaine Russell, health director for Transylvania County. “The WCU environmental health program has been an excellent partner to local health departments and we are excited for this new collaboration."
Byrd is hopeful that the internships will show students what great work the health departments in Western North Carolina are doing and promote working locally.
“I am really excited that our local health departments get to showcase what they do for the community and get our students excited about the work they are doing for the community.”
Kim Hall, internship coordinator and associate professor in WCU’s Environmental Health Sciences program, is hopeful that this partnership will help meet the urgent environmental health workforce.
“We are excited about this collaborative opportunity with local health departments,” Hall said. “These internships will not only provide our students opportunities to gain practical experience and serve the Western North Carolina communities but are also an important step in addressing urgent workforce needs in environmental health.”