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A success story! (What's going on at EKU).

For a field of practice as exciting as ours, there never seems to be any shortage of doom and gloom news, and opinions and predictions about it. A lot of the discouragement seems to come from the financial front, where we continue--year after year--to face funding cuts and the pressure to do more for less. Close behind the funding challenge is what many are now calling "workforce development" issues. The focus of this worry is on the two ends of our workforce "pipeline." On the back end, we hold our breath as we notice that more and more of this profession's best are now leaving because of retirement and attrition. On the front end, we nervously fidget about our failure to attract, in sufficient numbers, the students and the newcomers whom we need to replenish our ranks.

While the two giant concerns of funding and workforce development tend to receive the lion's share of attention, they are hardly the only concerns that we hear about. Everything from our attitudes toward our credentials to our culture to our place at the table seems fair game for some type of criticism.

The tool of critical analysis (through which most of these criticisms get expressed) certainly represents an effective way to advance progress. I for one often use this approach to assess a problem and figure out a way through it. After a while, however, the sheer weight of critical insight upon critical insight can be enough to discourage even the most ambitious person from even trying to improve our lot.

Fortunately, other much more positive tools are available and are just as effective in inducing the kind of change that is needed to achieve progress. One such tool involves the use of success stories. We can learn through the example of others and end up accomplishing much of what they achieved. I figured that it might be nice to take this more positive approach for once, especially since we are accustomed to hearing so many things that are wrong or challenging about our profession. The remainder of my column, therefore, will be devoted to a success story that demonstrates that it is possible to draw excited students into the study and ultimately the practice of environmental health.

First, let's set the stage. The issue in my sights is the one of workforce development and, more specifically, the challenges that we are facing at the front end of our pipeline. The setting is Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). The event is a meeting of EKU's National Environmental Health Diversity Council.

I recently attended this meeting not really knowing quite what to expect. All I knew was that EKU offered an environmental health degree program that was accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council. I also knew that this Diversity Council functioned to somehow increase the diversity of the student body in this degree program.

Let me tell you: By the time this meeting was over, I had gone from skeptic to convert.

I am well aware of the problems that our environmental health degree programs have been having. Student enrollments are significantly down compared with 10 years ago. Some programs are closing up altogether (as at Ferris State). Good and dedicated environmental health faculty are understandably frustrated and concerned.

In the midst of these numbers and trends, up pops EKU with the following story:

* between 233 and 290 total enrollment (for reference, I'm told that average enrollments for such programs tend to be around 50 students);

* between 25 and 30 minority students;

* environmental health students at EKU graduate with 15 different certifications (ranging from mold inspection to HACCP to bloodborne-pathogen training to terrorism training to strategic planning to spas and pools, etc.); and

* 60 percent of those graduating go into public health practice at the state or local level.

During the meeting. I had the opportunity to watch and listen to students and faculty alike. Particularly striking was the enthusiasm that everyone (and I do mean everyone) exhibited. As I worked to understand where this enthusiasm was coming from, I came to several conclusions. First, these people were obviously proud of what they have accomplished Second, I felt that the enthusiasm reflected a recognition for the breadth and modern-day relevance of the environmental health agenda. And finally, I had the sense that this enthusiasm spoke to the bonds that existed between the EKU faculty and students. From everything I could see, the students and the faculty really seemed to have fashioned a family in which each person was genuinely interested in the other's success.

As if the dynamic between the students and faculty weren't enough, on top of that was the additional impact of this diversity council. As program administrators at the school were quick to point out, EKU is not exactly located in an urban metropolis where easy access by minority populations would be possible. EKU is located about 40 minutes from Lexington, Kentucky, in beautiful bluegrass countryside. But despite its location, the program has successfully attracted significant numbers of minorities. In fact, as one speaker pointed out, the program has become so diverse that diversity is seldom talked about any longer because it has become the norm and not the exception.

The council's membership--which reads like a who's who in environmental health--has had a very positive influence on the success of this program. With highly respected people like Webb Young, Sharunda Buchannan, Welford Roberts, Priscilla Oliver, Frank Gomez, and May Linda Samuel--to name just a few--on this council, it can hardly be a surprise that it is the valuable resource that it is.

The people behind the EKU environmental health program, starting with Joe Beck and including Daryl Barnett, Dan Harper, Carolyn Harvey, and Stave Konkel, among others, have really put something impressive together. They have succeeded in conceptualizing a system that both integrates and takes advantage of multiple resources. In addition, they have demonstrated a capacity for creativity and boldness that keeps the program moving in new and exciting ways.

On the creativity front, for example, this group of enterprising faculty came up with the idea of offering a general course, to be made available to the entire student body, called something like "The Germs of Travel and Leisure." This enticing course draws over 500 students on a regular basis. Once students are in the course, the professors introduce them to many of the fundamentals of environmental health. Once exposed, many of these students discover that our field is something that they can get excited about. Shortly thereafter, majors are changed, and lo and behold, student enrollment in the environmental health program increases.

As a measure of the boldness of the faculty, I was informed that when the faculty goes out to eat, it isn't uncommon to find that when the meal is served, efforts will be made to recruit the waiter into the program! In short, recruitment never stops. Moreover, it is driven by the faculty's belief in the worthiness of the cause and the program.

It is indeed the case that our profession has its share of challenges and perhaps then some. It is also the case that many of the challenges facing us are serious and daunting. Despite the challenges, however, we also have some very special things going for us. The environmental health degree program at EKU and the diversity council that works on its behalf are good examples of that.

This program sees itself as an example that others can emulate. In my opinion, it is an example of what can be done when determined people work together to make something happen--even when naysayers argue that it can't be done.

Thank you Joe and EKU for showing us the way and for proving that many of our problems can be solved if we, like you, take the passion we feel about our field and use it as a source of energy to hurdle the serious challenges that our profession faces.

Nelson Fabian, M.S.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Managing Editor's Desk
Author:Fabian, Nelson E.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Previous Article:Calendar.
Next Article:Evolution: advancing the environmental health professional step by step.

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