The University announced a new undergraduate environmental health program offering students a bachelor of science degree in public health.
The program’s first two courses, Foundations of Environmental Health and Introduction to Toxicology, are available for students to take in the upcoming fall semester. Jo Anna Shimek, the clinical assistant professor teaching Foundations of Environmental Health, said the toxicology course might be rescheduled for the spring semester due to a lack of registered students.
As for her course, Shimek said it will cover an array of topics related to public health, including everything from how people become exposed to air pollution to food safety. Though the subject is broad, she said a fine line exists between environmental health and environmental science.
“Environmental science looks at what we’re doing to the environment,” Shimek said. “In other words, our power plants, the damage we’re doing to the environment. Environmental health looks at what the environment is doing to our health.”
Shimek said the new undergraduate program is geared toward students who prefer practical work experience to continue their education past the secondary level. The courses include teaching real-world skills such as environmental sampling she said would prepare students for jobs like taking water quality samples for local water departments or monitoring the air with the Environmental Protection Agency.
The program also aims to prepare students to receive certification from the National Environmental Health Association as registered environmental health specialists, she said.
“It’s kind of a functional degree,” Shimek said. “In other words, they’ll be able to go right out and get a job.”
The opportunities for students studying environmental health are extensive, she said.
Indiana ranked fourth on the Natural Resource Defense Council’s “Toxic 20” list of states with the most air pollution in the U.S. The state also has one of the worst obesity problems and one of highest percentages of cigarette-smoking residents in the country. Shimek said the goal of the program is to get people working on these issues.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement, but we need a lot of people on the ground to get out there and work with people,” she said
Shimek said though the program is designed to include hands-on experience, it’s not for the faint of heart. Environmental health is definitely science-based, she said, and students will start to see tougher courses appear in the spring with an expanded course offering.
The payoff comes from the expected job preparedness and availability, Shimek said.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for the students to get a degree in a science-based program that has implications for the wider public audience,” Shimek said. “So it’s very exciting for us to have put this program forward.”