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Environmental Health Sciences Program

What is Environmental Health Science?


Environmental Health is the branch of public health that focuses on the interrelationships between people and their environment, promotes human health and well-being, and fosters healthy and safe communities. Environmental Health professionals are responsible for ensuring the safety of what we eat, breathe, touch, and drink. These are the individuals who monitor air quality and water resources, evaluate human and environmental health effects of toxic substances and pesticides, conduct restaurant inspections, carry out vector control initiatives, and promote healthy land use and housing. Environmental Health professionals also perform research on a variety of topics including environmental toxins, communicable disease outbreaks and exposure assessments, human health impacts of natural disasters, and more.

ENVH Students


Environmental Health at WCU

The Environmental Health (ENVH) Program is focused on the protection of human health from biological, chemical, and physical hazards in the environment. The program includes an exciting and engaging curriculum of courses in the basic and applied sciences. The WCU Environmental Health Program is one of less than 30 programs nationally accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC)

The ENVH Program provides a comprehensive learning experience that prepares students to identify and reduce people’s risk of communicable diseases and exposure to pollutants in air, water, soil, food, and materials in the places they live and work. You’ll learn from primary faculty with many years’ experiences as environmental health professionals, educators, and researchers who enjoy working closely with students. The ENVH Program is committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves and has been named the university’s first Community Engaged Program by the WCU Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning

Because of growth in the field, more than 95% of our graduates have jobs or have secured admission to competitive graduate school programs upon graduation. Additionally, Environmental Health is an excellent “pre-professional” degree for such disciplines as medicine, physical therapy, dentistry, and other healthcare fields.

Students admitted to WCU can declare a major in Environmental Health. Environmental Health majors must maintain an overall 2.3 GPA and earn a grade of C (2.0) or above in each of the core environmental health courses to remain in the program. 

Environmental Health Professionals (EHP) are committed to improving public health. Presently, there is a severe shortage of EHP across the country. Excellent jobs exist in a variety of areas and environmental health workforce needs are projected to increase in the coming years. There are five important aspects to this work:

  • Protecting the environment by reducing air, water, and soil pollution
  • Protecting the food supply 
  • Ensuring safe living conditions in housing 
  • Improving the safety of schools, public areas, and workplaces
  • Promoting public health with a focus on environmental hazards

Although all EHP have public health at the heart of their job, they don't all work for the same sort of employer. Local authorities, such as the agencies concerned with the protection of public health, employ most environmental health professionals. However, there are plenty of other possibilities:

  • Federal government and its agencies 
    • U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS)
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Local and state governments including health departments
  • Environmental protection consultancies
  • Cruise ships
  • Military service (Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines)
  • Private companies such as manufacturers – (worker safety and environmental programs)
  • International health organizations
    • World Health Organization (WHO)
    • Peace Corps
    • United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

Whether you choose to work in the public or the private sector you'll have excellent prospects and good salaries and working conditions.

For more information on career opportunities, visit Career Services.

All Environmental Health students are required to complete at least one 400-hour internship under a qualified environmental health and safety professional; some students complete two internships before graduating. Internship opportunities for students are available at a large number of public health agencies, industries, consulting firms, and other locations. 

Students work closely with their academic advisor and Environmental Health faculty to identify and explore internship opportunities that best match their career goals. Because the WCU’s Environmental Health Program is accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC), students are eligible to apply for the U.S. Public Health Service’s Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (JRCOSTEP). Environmental Health majors are also eligible to apply for the National Environmental Public Health Internship Program (NEPHIP) hosted by the National Environmental Health Association.

Check out some of the most recent student internship experiences! 

ENVH Naly Yang


My main project during the summer was completing well water samples from newly constructed homes. Water sampling was part of the well permitting process, but because there has been a sudden increase in construction in Catawba County, the environmental health specialists began falling behind on water samples. I had great supervisors and a great team of environmental health specialists in the food and lodging and on-site division. I spent time with every staff member during the course of my internship and soon learned how knowledgeable everyone was. Everyone was very accommodating, friendly, and a pleasure to work with.

ENVH Hannah Goins


I helped with a project that Gaston County has been working on for five years through a grant given by the CDC. The project was called Healthy Wells. Healthy Wells focus was to make sure that the residents of Gaston County, that had private wells, had safe water for the resident to drink. They wanted to make sure that everyone had water that was not contaminated and considered undrinkable. What I loved about my internship was going to the different establishments, learning firsthand how the health inspectors do their jobs, and being able to expand my knowledge in environmental health.

ENVH Davis Hoots


My main project as an environmental, health, and safety intern was to completely redo and overhaul of the company’s safety data sheet database. What I loved about my internship was throwing myself out there and meeting and talking to new people in my field and in the corporate field including vice presidents, presidents, and CEOs.

ENVH Victoria Powell


My main project was CDC mosquito pooling to test for infected mosquitos. I set up to 8 mosquito traps a day to catch as many vectors as possible using CDC Gravid and CO2 Light traps. My favorite thing about my internship was the relationship I had with my coworkers. They never made me feel like a lesser employee because I was an intern and really made me feel welcome.

ENVH Carlos Cabrera


I was a Swimming Pool Technician and my main project was performing swimming pool inspections. What I loved about my internship was being able to gain confidence in my personal abilities out in the field while still helping and protecting the public.

ENVH Graham Siegel


I spent time within the U.S. Public Health Service’s Commissioned Corps as a Junior COSTEP within the Indian Health Service. I assisted in conducting food health, safety, and sanitary surveys for the purposes of securing the health and wellness of tribal communities within the range of Reno District Office, serving tribes in Nevada, Arizona, and California. What I loved most about my internship was assisting the communities I visited as I feel I was able to make a difference. I helped to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities I visited and further educate tribal leadership and facility operators and management on what can be done in the future.

ENVH Miranda Pavey


My main project focused on gathering both employee and guest accident reports from 2016 to 2021, adding them into our safety management software, and then analyzing that data to identify trends in accidents and injuries. My research assessed everything from work location and date of injury to specific rapid locations and the causes of those injuries. The most important thing I learned this summer was that organization and communication is key in this field. Effective communication of health and safety information is at the center of everything we do.

In addition to a variety of WCU scholarships available to students throughout campus, there are also scholarships available specifically for Environmental Health majors through WCU and external sources. 

  • WCU Environmental Health Scholarship
  • National Environmental Health Association/American Academy of Sanitarians (NEHA/AAS) Scholarship

  • Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA) Scholarship

  • North Carolina Public Health Association (NCPHA) Stacy Covil Scholarship

  • North Carolina Public Health Association (NCPHA) Environmental Health Section Scholarship Fund

Environmental health comprises those aspects of human health, including quality of life, that are determined by physical, chemical, biological, social, and psychosocial factors in the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice of assessing, correcting, controlling, and preventing those factors in the environment that can potentially affect adversely the health of present and future generations.

Environmental health professionals protect human health and safety by:

  • Maintaining a safe supply of food and drinking water;
  • Discovering the mechanisms of environmentally related diseases such as insects, rodents, and other animal carriers of disease;
  • Treating and disposing of solid and toxic waste;
  • Reducing air, water, food, and noise pollution; and,
  • Ensuring safe schools and workplaces by identifying, recognizing, and controlling hazards.

Students in environmental health have the opportunity to take courses such as:

  • Water Quality and Wastewater Management
  • Air Quality
  • Food Sanitation and Protection
  • Medical Entomology
  • Environmental Toxicology
  • Epidemiology
  • Biosafety and Bioterrorism Prevention

Environmental health professionals work in many different areas of both the private and public sector. Some of the career paths our alumni have followed include:

  • Environmental Health Officer for the U.S. Public Health Service
  • Environmental specialist for state health departments
  • Industrial hygienists
  • Epidemiologists
  • Safety Professionals

Not hard at all. More than 95% of environmental health graduates who are actively seeking a job have one at graduation or soon after. Environmental Health is an “underserved” field. Graduates are also well positioned for admission to competitive graduate school programs

Additionally, Environmental Health is an excellent “pre-professional” degree for such disciplines as medicine, physical therapy, dentistry, and other healthcare fields.

Yes! There are several scholarship opportunities that are available specifically for WCU Environmental Health majors in addition to a variety of WCU scholarships available to students across campus.

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