Environmental Science student interns at the Centers for
By Christina Tobitsch
Senior majoring in Environmental Science
Improving the environment and helping people are two things I have always cared deeply about. During the summer of 2011, I had an opportunity to do both through the Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health Internship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. As an environmental science major, I was drawn to this internship because it encourages all students with a passion for the environment to apply, not just students specifically studying environmental health.
I was placed in the CDC’s Office of Sustainability, which fit perfectly with my interests. As an active member of the EcoHusky student group at UConn and proud supporter of our Campus Sustainability Fund, I am familiar with promoting “sustainability.” However, I quickly discovered that living a sustainable lifestyle can be linked to improving health, as well. The CDC goes beyond merely showing the environmental benefits of sustainability by informing the public of the reasons why a societal shift towards increased sustainability can improve health. The Office works and lives by the motto, “Go Green, Get Healthy.”
In the Office of Sustainability, I worked closely with the communications team, which used my writing skills for internal and external communication initiatives. As one of my larger tasks I wrote and edited seven white papers on issues in sustainability and health, such as green purchasing, transportation, e-waste and food. These papers are available to the internal CDC community as reference materials and are published on the Office of Sustainability’s Web site, www.cdc.gov/sustainability.
In addition to the work experience, the program offered so many other valuable learning opportunities. Each week, the interns participated in activities related to a specific environmental theme like environmental justice, water quality or air quality. We attended a weekly journal club in which we were required to read a few articles related to our theme of the week and then come together to discuss them. This helped prepare us for our weekly guest lecturers at a brown bag seminar. At the end of the week, we had opportunities to go on educational field trips.
I learned so much, not just about the environment, but public health in general, and the history, research and priorities of the CDC. I quickly discovered that careers in environmental health unite my interests in the environment and the well-being of people. Like other CDC employees, I was able to attend lectures and presentations given at the CDC headquarters. I even participated in a daylong workshop on public speaking and making effective presentations. In addition, I volunteered to conduct interviews during an Acanthamoeba keratitis (an eye disease) investigation!
I also made two formal presentations. My first one, “Alleviating Childhood Asthma,” was intended for parents. It was given before my class of interns and a panel of CDC judges, who critiqued me on the quality of my presentation. My final presentation focused on the work I had done at the CDC all summer, and every CDC employee could attend.
This experience was an unforgettable stepping stone for my future endeavors. I had the opportunity to learn so much, network with so many people and meet a few great friends along the way. I have my heart set on a career as an environmental educator, and I’ve realized that stressing the human health implications of polluting the environment can help make people more aware of the importance of living an environmentally friendly, or sustainable, lifestyle.