Spending the Summer at CDC

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Celia Karp
Celia Karp, 2013 CLEH intern

Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health (CLEH) is a paid 10-week summer environmental internship for undergraduate students who are passionate about the environment, interested in human health, and curious about how they are linked. Applications for 2014 CLEH internships are due by January 29, 2014. See the CLEH website for application materials.

Hi! I’m Celia Karp. I spent last summer as an intern in the Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health (CLEH) program at CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. Read about my experiences learning about environmental health and working at CDC:

I spent the first half of 2013 studying abroad in Seville, Spain. One afternoon, after I finished my comparative healthcare systems course, I stopped at an internet café to check my email. I was thrilled to receive an offer from the CDC internship coordinators to participate in the Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health (CLEH) program for the summer. As a public health and communications student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I had always dreamt of working at CDC. When I learned about my assignment with the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network and everything involved in the 10-week internship program, I knew this would be an experience unlike any other.

So, how was my summer? Well, I can honestly say that no two days at CDC were the same. Between projects for the Tracking Network and activities for the CLEH program, I was able to learn a lot about environmental health. Each week our group explored different environmental health topics like

CLEH interns participating in an urban gardening activity.
CLEH interns participating in an urban gardening activity.
  • air and water quality,
  • global health issues,
  • food safety and access,
  • healthy built environments,
  • emergency preparedness and response,
  • public health communications, and
  • environmental justice.

Although I was a little uncertain about what “environmental health” really meant when I started, our weekly journal clubs, guest speakers and field trips made me recognize the many different ways the environment impacts our health, and why understanding environmental health is so important to advancing the field of public health.

Tracking in Action

One of the first ways I learned about environmental health was through my project with the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, a system that brings together environmental and health data from across the country. After understanding what the Tracking Network is and how it functions, I worked with the Network’s communication team to develop new cancer content for the program website, engage people through our social media channels, and create educational materials to help people understand how they can use the Network to learn about public health issues. Working on this project was a great opportunity to collaborate with epidemiologists and health communication specialists to learn how to write about complex scientific topics in a way that was easy for people to understand and use.

Scientifically Speaking

During one of our weekly journal clubs, I was tasked with teaching my fellow interns about public health communication. With biology, economics, engineering, chemistry, urban planning, sustainability and environmental studies students represented in the group, communicating about public health seemed like a forgotten topic. To get everyone thinking about the role of communication in public health efforts, I proposed a chemical spill scenario and asked people to create specific messages for different audiences.

The discussion this activity sparked helped me rethink how people perceive health issues and take action to address them. While some of my scientifically-minded peers emphasized the need to describe the health effects of the chemicals, others focused on the importance of finding the right channels for delivering their messages. Just as the practice of environmental health requires a multifaceted approach, this exercise emphasized the shared learning that occurs when many different perspectives are considered through team efforts.

Not Your Average Field Trip

CLEH interns having some fun around Atlanta
CLEH interns having some fun around Atlanta.

Instead of learning about the built environment from lectures or readings, we went outdoors and saw the issues firsthand. During our first fieldtrip we explored two different Atlanta communities. Equipped with GPS devices and lists of everyday errands, we tried to complete our tasks by walking from one site to the next.

Minutes after the activity began we encountered multiple environmental disparities and community design issues that were impossible to ignore. Limited pedestrian access to sidewalks and crosswalks in one community we visited made something simple like walking to the grocery store, which was a far distance from any housing developments, a dangerous activity. In contrast, the other community was filled with pedestrian walkways, bike paths, clear signs and traffic lights. It was easy to see how the health of the environment can impact our decisions, our health and our lives.

Aquariums Are for Big Kids Too

CLEH interns visit the Georgia Aquarium
CLEH interns visit the Georgia Aquarium to learn about the connection between marine mammals and human health.

What better way to learn about water quality monitoring systems than by exploring the Georgia Aquarium? Here, we went on a behind the scenes tour to learn about the aquarium’s exhibits, checked out the water quality control center to understand how it’s managed, and discovered the connection between marine mammals and human health. For example, we listened to a marine pathologist speak about how diseases spread in Florida’s dolphins, and realized how this type of research can be easily applied to human health. Learning about the interconnectedness of our environments was fascinating.

See what I mean when I say no two days were the same? It seems impossible to describe my entire internship in just a few words or sentences because we learned so much throughout the experience. Working at CDC solidified my interests in health communication science and made me even more passionate about the public health field. As I move forward in my career, I will remember my summer at CDC as one of the most enriching learning experiences of my life.

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Page last reviewed: July 9, 2015
Page last updated: July 9, 2015