What is it like to be an intern through NEHA’s National Environmental Public Health Internship Program?

Date posted: 
Wednesday, February 3, 2021 - 19:15
Blog poster: 
Reem Tariq
Email of Blog Poster: 

Keelan KennyMeet Keelan Kenny! Keelan is an undergraduate student at Colorado State University (CSU) double majoring in Environmental Public Health and Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Spanish. Keelan served as an intern for the National Environmental Health Association’s (NEHA)’s National Environmental Public Health Internship Program (NEPHIP) in 2020. She was matched with Clark County Health Department in Vancouver, WA.

In addition to excelling academically during her time at CSU, she also believes in being a well-rounded individual. She serves as a Resident Assistant, holds a position in the Environmental Public Health Association, founded the Honors Sustainability club, and works as an Undergraduate Learning Assistant. After graduating, she hopes to enroll in CSU's dual degree program and earn her MPH while also completing her Doctorate of Veterinarian Medicine degree. Ultimately, she hopes to integrate her degrees and work as a veterinarian for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and consult on issues that impact human, animal, and environmental health. Keelan is invested in her community’s health and is motivated to be a part of sustainable solutions.

NEHA staff recently connected with Keelan to learn more about her NEPHIP experience. Below are some insights and experiences Keelan shared with NEHA staff regarding her time as a NEPHIP intern.

Q: Why did you apply for the NEPHIP internship?

Keelan: We were required to complete an internship as part of my academic requirements through my university. What drew me to NEPHIP was the fact that the program is designed to take into consideration the interests of the students. The NEPHIP application asks the applicant to list their interests. I knew that my unique interests in issues that impact human, animal, and environmental health might be a difficult match, but NEHA staff did an excellent job of matching me with an experience that was tailored for me. Another thing that appealed to me about NEPHIP was reading through the past intern experiences. I was also really intrigued by the fact that there were so many different avenues and opportunities in terms of environmental health topics highlighted in the application. That was exciting to me!

Q: What independent project did you work on?

Keelan: My independent project focused on conducting research on developing a statewide reporting system for Washington residents with pets that experience blue-green algae poisoning. The goal of my project was to bridge the gap between health departments and veterinary clinics through a survey tool targeting veterinary clinics. Based on my work, we may be able to make blue-green algae poisoning an officially reportable condition, so if an animal comes into a veterinary clinic with potential symptoms associated with blue-green algae poisoning, the incident would get logged with the new reporting system. Having this reporting system will help inform the swim beach advisories to hopefully prevent pets from experiencing blue-green algae poisoning. As part of my project, I was tasked to develop a newsletter to notify veterinary clinics of algae blooms. In addition, I created an educational brochure that clinics could hand out to their clients to increase awareness of algae poisoning in pets.

Q: What was it like to do a virtual internship at a health department during the pandemic? Share some challenges and opportunities that came out of those unique circumstances.

Keelan: Perhaps the most challenging part of my virtual internship experience was that I was reaching out to veterinary clinics to ask about recreational beaches in their area without having a firsthand understanding of what these beaches looked like or how the residents used them. While my host health department gave me all the tools to answer resident questions regarding the safety of beaches, I did not have that firsthand knowledge of their beaches.  

Given the unique circumstances of the internship, I was able to take on a lot of the quantitative data analysis work associated with my project that I might not have had the opportunity to work on if my internship was onsite. I am grateful for that unexpected opportunity that came out of a virtual experience. Also, NEHA curated a list and provided access to several free educational webinars and virtual training that I found very helpful. I developed an interest in tribal health because of exposure to this material that was so conveniently laid out on the NEPHIP Network, which is an online community for NEPHIP interns. To clarify, I was already interested in tribal health; this platform just provided an opportunity to explore this interest as my internship was not related to tribal public health.  

Q: How did this internship experience impact your understanding of working in an environmental health division of a public health department?

Keelan: Working at a health department helped me appreciate the sheer expansiveness of the services offered by these agencies. Also, I was quite blown away by how integrated the services are across the various departments and how impactful these services are to one’s day-to-day life and a community’s well being. After my NEPHIP internship, I walked away with a newfound appreciation for public health agencies, and it further bolstered my conviction of pursuing an MPH degree.

Q: What was your overall impression of the internship experience?

Keelan: I was quite impressed by how well my host health department transitioned into the online format. They were very communicative and were genuinely remorseful about me not having a chance to do a lot of the hands-on experiences. I also found them to be very invested in providing an experience that would interest me. They found a project that was targeted to my desire to integrate animal, human, and environmental health. I was very appreciative of that! Furthermore, they were always available to help me with any questions I had with regards to my project or career interests. I felt that they sincerely cared about my growth and success.  

Q: Would you recommend the NEPHIP internship to other environmental health students? Why?

Keelan: I would highly recommend this internship to all environmental health students that are enrolled in National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council-accredited schools. I had a wonderful and enriching NEPHIP experience. I am extremely grateful to Clark County Health Department staff, as well as NEHA staff, for an amazing internship experience and their continued support.

What is NEPHIP?

In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Water, Food, and Environmental Health Services Branch, NEHA is offering an internship program for environmental health students for summer 2021. The purpose of this internship is to allow students to gain a firsthand perspective on the day-to-day responsibilities of environmental health professionals, make invaluable connections with those working in the field, and encourage students to consider careers working in state, tribal, local, or territorial environmental health departments following graduation. Through funding from CDC, the program supports environmental health student internships and provides a base stipend of $6,000 for undergraduate students and $8,000 for graduate students for a 10-week internship to cover lodging, food, and incidental expenses.

Eligibility and how to apply:

In addition to the eligibility requirements below, students must meet the requirements of their academic institutions and host health departments. Students applying for an internship through NEPHIP must meet the following criteria:

  1. Attend a National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC)-accredited environmental health academic program:
  1. Be a current junior, senior, or graduate student at the time the application is submitted and have completed at least one full year of academic training with a majority of courses in environmental health focus areas.
  2. Be enrolled as a student during the summer internship.
  3. Possess an overall minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 2.8 on a scale of 4.0 with a minimum GPA of 3.0 in environmental health coursework.
  4. Have active health insurance and be capable of performing various environmental health tasks, some of which may be physically challenging.


To be considered for placement in NEPHIP 2021, students must complete the application components in the link below. Students will not be considered unless all parts of their application are submitted on or before February 5, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. PST. To learn more and apply, click here.

Health departments that are interested in hosting a student intern through NEPHIP can learn more and apply here. Applications are due on or before February 5, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. PST.

For questions about NEPHIP, please contact Reem Tariq (RTariq@neha.org) or Audrey Keenan (AKeenan@neha.org). 

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect the policy, endorsement, or action of NEHA or the organization where the author is employed. NEHA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.  

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