On the job | Xiaoyu Sun

| Xiaoyu Sun
A young woman in a black tank top sits at a table looking at a computer.

DEOHS undergraduate student builds tool to help prevent wastewater overflows

Deohs summer intern neon illustration

Xiaoyu Sun

BS in Environmental Health


Guangzhou, China

Internship with:

Washington State Department of Ecology

Editor’s note: This summer, 20 DEOHS undergraduate students are getting hands-on experience as interns with health agencies, nonprofits and private companies. In our occasional “On the Job” series, we feature some of their stories.

This summer, I am building a wastewater estimating tool as part of my internship with the Washington State Department of Ecology to help households and businesses track their wastewater use and prevent sewage spillover and other environmental health issues.

Household wastewater is full of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. To prevent contamination of well water and nearby surface water, septic systems must function properly to remove these pollutants.

A young woman in a black beret and jacket poses against a hillside.
Xiaoyu Sun, DEOHS undergraduate student

The tool will be used to monitor septic systems and their wastewater loads and will check for system failures to prevent overflows and contamination. Septic systems are complex and varied, and I’m learning that the ways they are regulated and inspected through different state codes and standards are equally complex.

To develop the tool, I am collaborating with partners from the Washington State Department of Health and the University of Minnesota.

I'm also thinking about the consequences of water use related to climate change, human activity and environmental justice. While I spend most of my time working with data, I think a lot about how I can apply what I am learning to help build a healthier environment and educate people on water use and wastewater treatment. In the future, I am thinking about becoming a disease investigator.

DEOHS is a really caring department. While searching for my internship, I got a lot of guidance and support from Dan Poux, our department’s manager of experiential learning & career services. I met with him several times, and he helped me identify internships that would my match my interests. He even helped review my cover letter, and since I am an international student, he also helped me figure out my work status!

My internship is through the National Environmental Public Health Internship Program sponsored by the National Environmental Health Association.

For incoming students, I recommend that you start looking early on for an internship and get advice from professors, friends and others about how to apply. Then apply for as many as possible!


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