Each month NEHA will shine the spotlight on a member who is making a difference in the field of environmental health.
In our first story, Clint Pinion, Jr., DrPH, RS, MPH shares his passion for environmental health science (EHS) and occupational health, working with students, and the value of NEHA membership. Clint is an Assistant Professor and EHS Club Advisor at Eastern Kentucky University Department of Environmental Health Science, and the current President of the Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs (AEHAP).
NEHA: How did you get started in the environmental health profession?
Clint: My desire to join the field of environmental, and occupational health, stems from growing up in eastern Kentucky. As a child I witnessed countless environmental issues in my community. I couldn’t comprehend the disregard many of my community members had for the environment, and ultimately human health. Also, my grandfather passed away from an occupationally related illness before I was born. His death sparked my interest in the concept of total worker health.
My journey in EHS didn’t officially begin, however, until I stumbled upon the website Eastern Kentucky University’s Master of Public Health degree in Environmental Health. I spoke with faculty at EKU and became enamored by the career possibilities an EHS degree could afford me. I was fortunate to complete two internships while at EKU. One focusing on environmental health and safety compliance, and the other geared toward worker health. Both internships solidified my desire to protect people from environmental and occupational health hazards.
Upon finishing my MPH, I moved to Houston, Texas to complete a doctoral degree in environmental and occupational health. While in Houston, I began working in environmental health and safety compliance for a global procurement, engineering, and construction company. I worked in industry for six years before transitioning into academia.
NEHA: What do you love most about your career in academia?
Clint: My students. I switched from industry to academia because my passion is sharing the story of environmental and occupational health with future professionals. Each day I can impact a student’s understanding of EHS, and potentially their future, by sharing knowledge instilled in me by past mentors. I enjoy seeing the eureka moments for my students, as they realize what EHS niche interests them. More importantly, I love when students email, call, or text to say they have landed their first job.
NEHA: You are the current President of AEHAP. Tell us about AEHAP’s work encouraging and supporting students who pursue degrees in environmental health.
Clint: AEHAP works to increase the number of culturally competent environmental health professionals in the United States by promoting and supporting EHS degree programs accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC). We envision a global society in which all people are well versed in EHS. All AEHAP endeavors are aligned with our mission of advancing a 21st-century science-based educational model that develops culturally-competent environmental health scientists capable of solving complex challenges in environmental public health, occupational health, and associated regulatory compliance.
In working toward our mission, we advocate for environmental health education with education policymakers and link faculty at EHAC accredited schools with emerging environmental health topics to enhance student learning experiences. We provide students enrolled in EHAC accredited schools with a job bank, an online discussion forum, and scholarship and internship listings. We use our website, social networking sites, and conference presence to promote EHAC accredited schools and to recruit new EHS students.
Each year, we sponsor a student research competition which provides a travel stipend for four students from EHAC accredited schools to attend and present at the NEHA Annual Educational Conference (AEC). We collaborate with NSF International to provide an annual NSF Scholar award to one student from an EHAC accredited school to conduct research on the application of NSF standards in environmental health agencies. The NSF Scholar attends the NEHA AEC to present his or her findings.
NEHA: Why do you think being a member of NEHA is valuable?
Clint: NEHA membership opens the door to countless resources which are useful in career advancement. Members can seek credentials, and attend courses and conferences, to stay current with emerging environmental health issues. As an academic, NEHA membership provides crucial networking opportunities, which lead to internships and scholarships for students. I infuse my course discussions and activities with concepts I learn each summer at the NEHA AEC.
NEHA: What advice would you give to young professionals beginning a career in environmental health?
Clint: I pass along advice I received from a former boss. He told me to say yes to opportunities, as long as they did not compromise my values or my integrity. He always referred to issues or challenges as opportunities to learn and grow and ultimately enhance the field of environmental and occupational health. Young professionals should join their state affiliates and become NEHA national members. The opportunities afforded from being a NEHA member are priceless. I also suggest young professionals continue educating themselves through conferences, advanced degrees, and credentials.
NEHA has compiled resources for students and young professionals who are interested in environmental health.
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