From one day to the next, Cecelia Austin isn’t entirely sure where she’ll be working or what she’ll be doing.

It could be carrying out food safety inspections at a restaurant or casino. Perhaps she’ll need to perform a water quality study, or ensure that a wastewater lagoon is properly marked. There could even be a need to follow up on a call from a resident who has been bitten by a dog and is worried they might have rabies.

Austin, a senior environmental health and safety major at Missouri Southern, is in the midst of an internship with the U.S. Public Health Service in Oklahoma. It’s an experience the Neosho native says is giving her a broad view of a field she hopes to join after graduation.

“Day to day, we’re all over the place … I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow,” she says. “This internship does a really good job of making you see everything.”

She applied for the internship in October of 2016. Three months later – following an extensive background check – she received an official internship offer from the Office of Public Health and Science. The internship began May 15 and will continue through Aug. 18.

“The internship is through the Commissioned Corps, and I’ve been placed with the Indian Health Service,” Austin says. “The field office I work in serves a pretty localized area around Shawnee, Okla.”
“All the tribes are sovereign, so we’re kind of the middle man. We assist them with different tasks as basically an all-encompassing health department. We do just about everything, making sure they’re following the same health guidelines that are enforced outside the tribes.”

That can mean visits to restaurants, daycares, gas stations and water departments to perform institutional safety checks, verifying there are no hazards to general consumers and that clean water is adequate.

While it’s now her passion, environmental health and safety wasn’t always on her radar. Austin says she initially considered going into the medical field and focused much of her studies on biology classes.

“I realized that some of the biology classes were cross listed as environmental health,” she says. “I took them and really enjoyed and was interested in them. I liked the idea of public health and preventing diseases rather than prescribing medicine after the fact.

“It’s always really nice that Southern has only one of 30 programs in the nation accredited by the Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council. I made it my major and haven’t looked back.”