Public Health Sciences major Brittany Pine gains hands-on experience during CDC Internship

UMass Amherst Public Health Sciences major Brittany Pine

Public Health Sciences major Brittany Pine outside CDC headquarters in Atlanta

September 8, 2017

Public Health Sciences and Computer Science major Brittany Pine had the summer experience of a lifetime, interning at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. The rising senior joined 15 of her peers in the Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health (CLEH) internship program, a paid, nine-week summer environmental internship for undergraduate students, where she set out to learn what it would be like to work in a federal agency.

Pine returned to campus this fall with a strong sense of career opportunities that lay ahead. “In just nine weeks, I felt I gained a great sense of what the CDC is about,” she says. “I toured labs, networked, met professionals and interns, and saw how my classes applied to real jobs in the environmental health field.”

Thinking back on her nine weeks in Atlanta, Pine recalls hands-on activities, taking on real-life scenarios. “We would take relevant field trips on Fridays. On air pollution week, an expert spoke to us about sampling devices that he designed. They inexpensively test for chemicals in the air of suspected polluted neighborhoods. We went to an outdoor air monitoring station and looked at their sampling devices, mass specs, and public website.”

Pine also got first-hand experience when it came to emergency preparedness, taking part in a mock mercury spill put on by the EPA. “They told us about an incident where children played with mercury during school, and we had to figure out who was responsible for paying for the damages.” She recalls being taught how to properly put on a hazmat suit and use appropriate instruments to search for hidden mercury in the facility.

Along with hands-on experience came experts in their field, explaining the tools and methods used in a real emergencies. “An expert talked to us about how he uses satellite images to look for various things such as looking for traffic patterns and following nomadic populations. Another expert spoke about health and safety in disaster shelters.”

In addition to real-life scenarios, Pine completed projects in professional development for CDC employees where she focused on data analysis. Interns were also asked to give presentations in front of their peers and other CDC employees, strengthening her ability to communicate with the general public/non-scientists and lead in crisis situations. “I co-led a group discussion on food safety, where we presented about handling livestock, safe cooking habits, and food deserts. We led an activity where the other interns broke into groups and had to find the source of a (fake) norovirus outbreak in a restaurant.” Pine, reflecting on the experience, says it left her well prepared for giving effective presentations.

“The internship gave a chance for people to learn about fields they were unfamiliar with as well as strengthen their knowledge in fields they were familiar with. It focuses on how people and the environment are connected. It did not shift my focus,“ Pine said, ”but it showed me that I may want to work at CDC someday. I already had an interest in environmental health, but this internship showed me how broad of a field it is.”