Putting Theory into Practice-CDC's Summer Program in Environmental Health (SUPEH)

By Gerding, Justin; Kunz, Jasen | Journal of Environmental Health, January-February 2011 | Go to article overview

Putting Theory into Practice-CDC's Summer Program in Environmental Health (SUPEH)


Gerding, Justin, Kunz, Jasen, Journal of Environmental Health


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) environmental health internship is an educational experience exposing students to a field that requires diverse competencies in areas that range from sampling and conducting investigations to critical thinking and effective communication. These competencies are partially identified by NEHA, which lists 15 technical content areas in which the registered environmental health specialist (REHS) should be proficient (see sidebar on page 97). In addition to these technical competencies, 14 core competencies for environmental health practitioners have been identified by an expert panel convened by the American Public Health Association (APHA) and CDC (see sidebar on page 98). Diverse competency requirements reinforce the importance of exposing environmental health interns to the many aspects of the profession, both technical and professional.

The CDC Summer Program in Environmental Health (SUPEH) is designed to provide interns with a broad internship experience while exposing them to the technical and core competencies mentioned above. SUPEH is a 10-week program that exposes students to field practices and operations in a variety of environmental health topic areas at the local, state, and federal government levels. Four interns are selected by a competitive process on the basis of academic performance, quality of written essays, and professional references. Interns are located within the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) of CDC and assigned to the Environmental Health Services Branch (EHSB). Eligible students must be majoring in environmental health at academic programs accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC).

SUPEH builds environmental health-based knowledge by providing opportunities to engage in field work, project management, professional development, and mentorship. Prior to arrival, interns are asked about preferences regarding a specific area in environmental health. NCEH attempts to align each intern's stated interests with a project that the intern completes over the course of the summer. Roughly 50% of the intern's time is spent completing the project, while the other 50% is spent immersing the intern into a comprehensive environmental health learning environment. This comprehensive portion of the program is intended to expose an intern not only to technical aspects of the environmental health field, but also to administrative and professional requirements typically imposed on effective environmental health practitioners.

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Immersion in the subject field begins with the intern's shadowing at a metropolitan Atlanta environmental health department. Interns are able to witness and experience real-world application of skills in areas such as food safety, vector control, and land use assessment. In addition, interns have opportunities to observe environmental health activities at a variety of state agencies and within federal programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, National Park Service, and CDC. Mentorship and professional development are the other key program components. The intern is assigned a mentor within CDC. This mentor provides a glimpse into the life of a practicing environmental health professional. The mentorship also allows an intern a chance to seek guidance on making career-oriented decisions. Additionally, interns are encouraged to meet with CDC staff in program areas of interest. Aside from developing professional attributes during field experiences and mentoring, interns learn about a variety of foundational skills, such as developing effective communication abilities while attending seminars sponsored by other CDC internship programs.

Past interns have expressed appreciation for the experience and benefits gained from participating in an internship that provides for broad exposures. …

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