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Rutgers Environment & Public Health Program Goes Online


With Classrooms Closed Due to COVID-19,
Rutgers Shifts Training for Future Public Health Professionals Online

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rutgers quickly converts cornerstone classroom-based Environment and Public Health Program to an online format in order to prepare the next generation of front-line health investigators for protecting the state's communities!


by Casey Sky Noon, Published May 14, 2020


No strangers to large scale health scares, the world community took action to prevent the spread of SARS in 2003, the bird flu in 2005, the swine flu in 2009, Zika in 2016, and now the coronavirus. Like its predecessors, COVID-19 has ushered in a renewed appreciation for the epidemiological expertise, emergency preparedness, and clear messaging of public health professionals.

In addition to serving as "disease detectives," public health professionals are often responsible for a laundry list of other important duties such as:

  • Food safety
  • Water protection
  • Air quality
  • Industrial pollution
  • Sewage disposal
  • Hazardous material control and
  • Solid waste management in both the public and private sectors

In the era of COVID, their jobs may include fielding phone calls from panicked residents, tracing contacts of infected citizens, and/or inspecting restaurants that are navigating a new world as take-out only establishments.

Laptop screen showing teacher writing on whiteboard

EPH 2020 students will receive online training from over 30 top public health experts via a combination of pre-recorded and live lectures to prepare them for the REHS exam and careers as essential front-line public health professionals.

In New Jersey, these front-line investigators are licensed Registered Environmental Health Specialists (REHS). Since 1947, the Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education has prepared over 1,000 students for the licensing exam with our flagship Environment and Public Health (EPH) Summer Program.

During the seven-week classroom portion of Rutgers EPH program, students learn about epidemiology, water/wastewater, environmental pollution, environmental sanitation, food safety, soils/septics, public health microbiology, and more from a team of over 30 top experts in the industry. During the 200-hour field training internship at a local health department, students gain hands-on experience in the diverse and exciting world of public health. Once students complete both portions of the EPH program, they are eligible to sit for the REHS licensing exam and are well on their way to making a big difference in their communities.

With today's social distancing policies in place, the REHS exam prep course will be different than past years, but because the world needs trained public health professionals more than ever, Rutgers is pulling out all stops to move the classroom portion of this program online.

"Right now, it is all hands on deck to get this course prepared," said Rutgers Program Coordinator Amy Cook. "Luckily, we have a great team of smart, hard-working people, who are proud to be a part of the EPH program and want it to succeed."

Starting from scratch and navigating the world of virtual classroom learning has been a taxing undertaking. First, OCPE had to research, test, and choose an online platform.

"Having practice classes with staff posing as students, moderators, hosts, and presenters, we have spent countless hours testing multiple versions of Canvas, Zoom, Webex, and other programs," Amy explained.

The next step was getting all 30 plus instructors to convert their lectures to an online format, which means either prerecording their presentations or learning how to teach a live webinar.

Environment and Public Health Students Explore Soil Pits

During a typical summer, EPH students visit soil pits in the Rutgers Gardens for hands-on learning. This year, the soil pits lessons have been filmed in advance so students can still benefit from seeing how their online lessons apply to a real site.

"On top of having over 250 hours of course work to prepare, we have to figure out how to translate live demonstrations and hands-on activities to an online format in a meaningful way that still gives our students a quality learning experience."

During a typical year, the Rutgers EPH Program includes multiple field trips. Students visit a wastewater treatment plant, use a Munsell soil color chart in an actual soil pit, conduct a mock food inspection at a campus dining hall, and learn how to identify poison ivy in Rutgers Gardens.

"Another difficult aspect is the uncertainty surrounding placing students into their local health department internships," said Amy. "No one knows when the state will loosen its social distancing restrictions and so we are unable to tell students when, exactly, they will be able to begin their internships."

Nonetheless, the classroom portion of the 2020 course is scheduled to start on June 1. While converting to a digital format is a major shift from how the course has previously run, it may be a great opportunity to reach more students than ever. A handful of international students participate each year and offering the program online may open the opportunity for people, who couldn't otherwise attend.

"This has been an arduous process, but it is still easier than homeschooling kids during quarantine," Amy joked. "Knowing how important the Rutgers EPH Program is to the students who planned to attend this summer and to the larger state community keeps me focused on finding solutions for every hurdle thrown our way. I'm glad to be a part of something that feels so important."



For more information about the Rutgers Environment and Pubic Health (EPH) Program, contact Amy Cook at eph@njaes.rutgers.edu or 848-932-7649.