Lab Matters Spring 2024 | Page 20


Connecting STEM Students to Environmental Laboratory Careers

By Hunter Adams , environmental laboratory supervisor , City of Wichita Falls , TX ; Cody Danielson , assistant director , State Environmental Laboratory Services , Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality ; Mui Koltunov , research scientist supervisor , California Environmental Chemistry Laboratory ; Sydney Comet , associate specialist , Environmental Health ; and Sarah Wright , manager , Environmental Health Laboratories
Anyone working in environmental laboratories has likely experienced the shrinkage of available , qualified applicants in the last decade . While this has become a national trend , there are still plenty of qualified graduates for entry-level positions . Due to lack of visibility of environmental laboratories , environmental laboratory leaders need to proactively connect with universities , K – 12 schools , the public and local communities to increase awareness of how laboratories not only protect public health and the environment , 1 but may also offer a meaningful career . The following case studies highlight how three environmental laboratories established proactive partnerships with local students to help ensure a steady stream of qualified candidates for open positions .
Over the last decade , the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality ’ s ( DEQ ) State Environmental Laboratory has developed a high school and college student outreach and internship program aimed at connecting students to environmental laboratory careers . The outreach program provides in-school presentations from the DEQ laboratory and other DEQ divisions on topics such as land protection and laboratory testing . About eight staff participate in this activity to help reach students that may want to apply to various DEQ internship programs . In the following week ( s ), students travel to the DEQ laboratory for a tour and lecture , which includes hands-on and behind-the-scenes information . These tours may allow students to test samples for Escherichia coli and / or to perform punch biopsies to get fish specimen samples , then use a direct mercury analyzer to measure mercury concentrations .
During these events , staff inform students of internship and career opportunities , provide staff contact information for
Royce Riessen , APHL specialist , and Camille Danielson , director of Environmental Chemistry Programs at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene promote laboratory careers at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point career fair . Photo : University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point .
future conversations and accept resumes . Internships typically occur in the summer and the hours are very flexible , ranging from half a day per week to 30 hours per week , depending on the needs of the students , with a maximum of 999 working hours for paid internships . Interns can use the internship for their practical or curriculum-based projects . The internship program is funded through a fully budgeted scientist vacancy . Over the years , DEQ has hired many high-school , undergraduate and graduate students as interns . DEQ also budgets to hire interns as full-time employees if the fit is right . In the past decade , at least six interns have evolved into full-time employees .
In 2018 , the Environmental Chemistry Laboratory ( ECL ) of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control ( DTSC ) established the Toxic Crusaders Program to provide K – 12 students with the opportunity to experience the inner workings of a government laboratory . Its goals are to expose students to an applied science in a professional laboratory , help them develop critical thinking skills with respect to toxic chemicals in consumer products and the environment , and to teach them about DTSC and government careers . Since its inception , 357 students have participated in the annual six-week program . The program consists of five weekly hour-long virtual workshops where concepts are introduced to prepare students for laboratory work . In the sixth week , an on-site event gives students the opportunity to work alongside DTSC laboratory scientists to perform testing . For students who wish for more laboratory experience , unpaid internships are available .
Wichita Falls , TX
The Cypress Environmental Laboratory ( CEL ) has developed a multi-faceted partnership with Midwestern State University ( MWSU ) to expose students to laboratory science . Starting in the 1990s , CEL began providing MWSU environmental science degree program internships . In the last decade , offerings have expanded to biology , chemistry and humanities students . To help broaden all students ’ understanding of laboratory science post-graduation opportunities , annual lectures have been held since 2019 at MWSU ’ s student American Chemical Society chapter and / or for the Chemistry Seminar capstone class .
Most recently , CEL staff have worked with MWSU to add a water-related chemistry degree track and an annual regional environmental workshop , both set to start in 2024 . The workshop includes several City of Wichita Falls environment-related departments , as well as local employers , such as a hydrogen plant , Texas Parks and Wildlife , US Department of Agriculture and Texas Tech University . Students hear from 12 speakers throughout the day , in addition to brief MWSU professor lunch talks on their environmental research . Costs have been minimal for these different activities , aside from the city of Wichita Falls budgeting around $ 25,000
18 LAB MATTERS Spring 2024
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