Faculty Internships in Environmental Health: Planning and Implementation

Article excerpt

Introduction

The faculty internship, in which a faculty member works temporarily for a government agency or a private business, is a concept that is becoming popular at universities. This paper discusses how a faculty internship can be established and it reports on the advantages of the internship for the sponsoring academic institution, the sponsoring agency, and the professor. In addition, suggestions on structuring, implementing, and evaluating the internship are offered. The information is based on the experience of the author, who served as a faculty intern for the environmental health division of a county health department in rural west-central Indiana. Some of the benefits of the faculty internship include improved teaching methods, practical experience, community contacts, and increased internship opportunities for students. The faculty intern experience can enhance classroom theory for students and the implementation of practice can be clarified for the educator (Hirst, 1996; Lantos, 1994; Levy, 1988).

The National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council, which accredits undergraduate and graduate (master's-level) environmental health programs nationwide, requires that each student complete an internship or practicum class. Many faculty members in environmental health programs, however, have not had the experience of practice in the field. Faculty internships could be used as a means to bridge the gap between academician and practitioner (Lantos, 1994). The planning stages of the internship are the most important step in implementing a successful practicum experience. The internship has to be structured in a way that will be beneficial to the professor, the university, and the sponsoring institution. The faculty intern and the sponsoring institution need a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the internship (Lee, 1988).

Faculty Practicum Experience

An environmental health faculty internship program or practicum experience involves a faculty member working for a specific amount of time in a company, a not-for-profit organization, or a government agency, participating in everyday activities. Ideally, the faculty member will be on leave or sabbatical from his or her academic institution and become a temporary full- or part-time employee of the sponsoring organization (Kulesza, 1994; Lantos, 1994).

In the author's opinion, flexibility is one of the biggest assets in setting up the practicum experience for the faculty intern. This flexibility could be reflected in the length of the internship, activities performed by the faculty intern, and compensation. Different internships can be negotiated depending on the needs, resources, and limitations of the faculty member, the university, and the sponsoring institution or agency. The activities and duties of the faculty intern may also vary widely. They could include working on specific short-term projects, serving on special teams, conducting inspections, sampling and monitoring environmental pollutants, and so forth. Compensation may also vary since most tenured faculty who take a sabbatical leave receive full salary for one semester or half salary for two semesters from the university. For a summer internship, in which the faculty may not be on salary from their university, the faculty intern and the sponsoring agency may negotiate compensation. Another possibility for covering the cost of the faculty member internship is an exchange program in which a faculty member switches positions with a practitioner in the field of environmental health (Lewis, Kagle, & Peters, 1988).

At the beginning of the faculty internship, there should be a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the internship, those of the faculty intern, and those of the sponsoring institution or agency. Also, the goals and objectives should be as specific as possible (Duffy, 1987; Tabacchi, & Stoner, 1986). …