Investing in the Future: UF Graduate Student Interns in “The Last Frontier”
When one thinks of college student summer internships, they’re likely thinking of an office job, maybe one that doesn’t really offer a whole lot in the way of interesting terrain or landscape. A nine to five. A bridge between semesters. Important and exciting, yet practical and perhaps even a little mundane at times.
Those who are picturing that, however, need to pay special attention to what transpired over the summer for certain University of Findlay students, particularly those like Nirusha Biju Kakshapati, a graduate student in the Environmental Safety and Health Management Program at UF. Kakshapati wasn’t interested in a run of the mill summer internship.
That’s how she landed in Alaska.
It’s easy for the uninitiated to believe that Alaska, or “America’s Last Frontier,” named as such because of its magnificent distance from the lower 48 states and the rugged landscape and frigid climate it’s perceived to have, wouldn’t be a desirable destination for an intern. Kakshapati, however, said that’s not exactly the case. She recounted, for example, flying on a float plane to Prince William Sound, one of Alaska’s majestic beauties, in order to inspect shellfish and sample the water. From the plane ride, she took a boat to the oyster farms, got to know about shellfish farming and interacted with the local shellfish farmers regarding sanitary practices. “It was all indescribably scenic,” she said.
Kakshapati, an international student from Nepal, has always been interested in the field of food safety, and said that this particular internship with the National Environmental Public Health Internship Program was of interest to her because it exposed her to the benefits and challenges of working with environmental health departments. Recruited in Anchorage to help with the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Food Safety and Sanitation Program, she worked with skilled personnel doing inspections in food facilities, shellfish and seafood processors and even tattoo parlors to review permit requirements and evaluate sanitary practices in each facility. She prepared fact sheets and assorted documents, created a webpage for the farmers’ market and learned to review and approve permit applications all in an effort to preserve safety. “My visit to the Environmental Health and Public Health Labs was also interesting,” she said. “I got to see how these labs get accurate results by various analytical and technical procedures. I had a session with the division that ensures safe drinking water to the public and regulates discharges from industries, construction areas, cruises and ferries to waters and wetlands.” This division, she explained, also provides financial assistance in remote areas for proper water and wastewater facilities, something that she was happy to learn.
While the technology and the knowledge surrounding it is advancing and improving daily, Kakshapati said that food contamination is still a big issue. “Food borne illnesses associated with microbial pathogens or some other chemical components are serious issues in developing and even developed countries,” she said. “If the contaminated food is distributed, then it may result in regional, national and international food borne disease outbreaks or a series of chemical contamination. Food safety is an important public health problem, and that’s why interning for the food safety department was my first choice.”
Kakshapati mentioned that she is grateful for the internship opportunity and for the scholarship she was awarded as an international student in the ESOH program. “These experiences have helped me to apply classroom knowledge to real situations,” she explained. “This internship is an investment in the future, and has given me a lot more than I had expected it to. It helped me to expand my knowledge and explore my areas of interests.”
Although it’s clear that the education and resume-building, among other practical things, are important facets of her internship experience, the less tangible takeaways, according to Kakshapati, are just as important. “My biggest takeaway would be relationships and lots of beautiful memories forged through this internship, which I will cherish forever,” she said.