Environmental Health News

Why go anywhere else? Two DEOHS staff members transition to DEOHS students

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headshots of Jose Carmona and Alexandra Kossik

Jose Carmona and Alexandra Kossik say they are drawn to environmental and occupational health science because of its potential for interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity in solving urgent public health issues.

Photo:

Katherine B. Turner and Sarah Fish.

Jose Carmona

Degree: MPH in Occupational Health at the Human Health and Animal Interface training program
Research Focus: Conduct research with dairy workers through a one health lens.
Faculty Mentor: Peter Rabinowitz

Alexandra Kossik

Degree: Joint environmental and occupational health MPH and MPA in the UW Evans School of Public Policy and Governance
Research Focus: Expand the functionality of a kit that tests for poliovirus in water to target other viruses and bacteria.
Faculty Mentor: J. Scott Meschke

Alexandra Kossik and Jose Carmona have a unique window into what it means to earn a degree from the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS) department.

Both are former DEOHS staff members who traded in their employee badges in fall 2017 to become full-time DEOHS graduate students, a decision that Alexandra (who goes by Alex) calls “a no-brainer” informed by her staff experience.

“I got to learn a lot about what the department has to offer and how’s it’s pretty unique as far as MPH programs go,” she said. “You can do a lot of hands-on research while earning your degree, which is hard to find elsewhere.”

“I got to learn a lot about what the department has to offer and how’s it’s pretty unique as far as MPH programs go,” she said. “You can do a lot of hands-on research while earning your degree, which is hard to find elsewhere.”

Filling in the gaps

Alex previously worked in a lab led by DEOHS Professor Scott Meschke on environmental surveillance of poliovirus.

Jose worked on occupational health issues with agricultural workers through the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Center for Occupational Safety and Health (PNASH), housed in DEOHS.

Both eventually saw gaps in their education and skills that they knew needed to be filled if they wanted to reach future career goals.

“I realized that if I wanted to someday do my own research, I would need another set of skills I didn’t have,” said Jose. He is motivated by what he sees as a need for better representation for vulnerable agricultural workers he encountered during his time with PNASH.

“There is a shortage of representation [in these communities], especially in management positions,” he said. Jose hopes to bring the knowledge and skills he is gaining as a DEOHS graduate student back to these communities to create positive change and help amplify workers’ voices.

Alex Kossick taking a water sample.

Alex Kossik takes a water sample. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Kossik.

An insider's perspective

Hearing directly from graduate students about their relationship with DEOHS faculty mentors influenced Jose’s decision on where to go to school: “The graduate students I worked with spoke highly of their advisors, which matched my own perspective of the faculty. That helped me decide to attend school here because I could see myself working with these professors, too.”

Alex’s decision to continue her studies at DEOHS was also informed by her insider’s view as a staff member. “The graduate students I worked with were from different parts of the country, so they really validated the fact that our program is unique, is in a great area and has great people and great research. Why go anywhere else?”

The power of collaboration

Both Alex and Jose are drawn to the field’s potential for interdisciplinary collaboration to generate creative, effective solutions.

Alex plans to work on adapting a water testing kit developed in the Environmental and Occupational Health Microbiology Lab so it can be used to find viruses and bacteria besides poliovirus in wastewater and other water sources.

Additionally, she would like to develop her management and communications skills while deepening her knowledge of public health policy. This is why she is pursuing a joint MPH/MPA. “It’s really important to come at public health problems from both a science and a policy background. Otherwise, I don’t think we’ll get everyone at the same table, talking to each other in the right ways to change anything.”

Jose conducting research at a dairy farm.

Jose Carmona conducts research at a dairy farm. Photo courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center.

Jose’s research focus emerged from a discussion with Professor Peter Rabinowitz, who heads the DEOHS Center for One Health Research. The concept of one health brings together researchers with a passion for human health, animal health and environmental health to explore the connections among them, he said. Jose hopes to conduct future research with dairy workers through this one health lens.

Looking to the future

Both say they are also open to other potential career paths. “I came to the department [as a student] very focused on doing a specific thing. But … I’ve realized there are so many other opportunities, topics that are just as important as the work I want to do. So I’m keeping my options open.”

Alex noted that prospective graduate students often think they must know exactly what they want to do professionally before enrolling in graduate school, but her view has changed.

“A lot of the graduate students I worked with knew the area they wanted to go into, but they didn’t know their end career goal. So they said to me, ‘Just go, and figure out your end career while you’re in graduate school.’”


Letty Limbach is the web graphics specialist for the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences.

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