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Field Placements Offer Hands-On Experience to Students

The recipients of NWCPHP’s 2012 field placement stipends share what they learned and how the opportunity helped prepare them for the next stage in their careers.
Field Placements Offer Hands-On Experience to Students

Amber Lenhart (left) and Hannah Mandel (right)

The recipients of NWCPHP’s 2012 field placement stipends share what they learned and how the opportunity helped prepare them for the next stage in their careers.

February 11, 2013

The recipients of NWCPHP’s 2012 field placement stipends, Hannah Mandel and Amber Lenhart, recently completed their assignments and are eager to share the results of their work. We caught up with the students to hear what they learned and how the opportunity helped prepare them for the next stage in their careers.

Hannah Mandel

Mandel, a master’s student in biomedical and health informatics, came to her project with a strong interest in information technology and health equity. She was also looking for an opportunity to work directly with local health departments.

During her placement, Mandel worked with faculty sponsor Anne Turner, MD to interview staff from two local health departments in Washington State about their methods of translating health information for the growing numbers of multilingual individuals. Her field work was part of a five year National Library of Medicine funded project to investigate the use of machine translation in public health practice.

Mandel used part of the stipend to visit the health departments, which was invaluable. Says Mandel, “I had taken coursework in public health but had never interacted directly with public health agencies or professionals. During the visits I learned firsthand about their translation challenges.” These challenges include the lack of certified or qualified translators, the lack of funding, and the lack of time for translation services.

Mandel's interviews revealed that translation is done by hand, making the process time consuming. Attitudes towards using machine translation (i.e. Google Translate) varied, but many were willing to try it. Mandel’s project also revealed most employees’ willingness to share documents through a database such as the state’s Health Education Resource Exchange. She says information tools such as these can help busy health departments save time.

Mandel is optimistic that her findings can help improve the translation process at health departments and allow them to better serve multilingual populations.

Amber Lenhart

Amber Lenhart, a master’s student in environmental and occupational health, used NWCPHP's field placement stipend to continue her work with American Indians and Alaska Natives.

During her time with Tribal Healthy Homes Northwest, she developed a questionnaire to survey tribal communities about their attitudes and beliefs concerning home heating. Since wood stoves are common on reservations, Lenhart wanted to develop a way to understand how existing knowledge of wood smoke exposure and respiratory health influence home heating decisions. So she worked with the tribes to develop a survey that could answer these questions.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this project was partnering with community members. Their inclusion in the survey’s development and revision helped ensure the questions and interventions would be culturally appropriate,” Lenhart explains.

The tribes to be surveyed, like many American Indian and Alaska Native communities, experience high rates of asthma in children and cardiovascular disease in adults. Harmful substances and particulate matter in wood smoke contribute to these problems by causing lung irritation, physical stress, and general inflammation.

Retrofitting stoves and using cleaner fuels can help decrease exposure to these substances, but the lack of access, funding, and awareness often prevent people from making the changes. The results from Lenhart’s survey will help identify culturally acceptable heating alternatives like briquettes, which produce fewer toxic gases and ash than regular logs.

The survey has been pilot tested, and recommendations from tribal representatives are being incorporated into the final version. Members from tribes in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska are expected to participate in the final survey this winter.

Strengthening the Workforce

Students and advisors recognize that important learning takes place outside the classroom. Field placements expose students to the day-to-day operations of public health organizations and give experienced professionals the chance to mentor the next generation of workers. Together they are strengthening and sustaining the workforce for years to come.

For more information about hosting a student at your public health agency, contact Amanda Graybill-Pennington, Assistant Director of Student Affairs at the School of Public Health, at

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These field placements were sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Public Health Training Centers.


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