It seems unlikely that completing an internship at a children’s museum and science center in Albuquerque, N.M., would lead to a job communicating important public health information with the residents of Tacoma, Wash., but that’s exactly the path Altynai Watson ’21 has taken.
In 2018, after her first year at Puget Sound, Altynai interned at the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in her hometown of Albuquerque. There, she helped visitors of all ages explore science and math through hands-on activities. Though she didn’t know it at the time, the experience she gained at Explora helped to prepare her for her most recent internship, at the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. As an environmental health intern, Altynai spent most of her time with the Healthy Homes Program, which, she explains, “works with community partners, health care providers, and residents to provide community education and intervention [events] that create and support healthy housing.”
“In community spaces, I often would just be a listener,” she says. Working with the Healthy Homes Program provided her with an opportunity to hear from local stakeholders about the various issues Tacoma residents face day to day.
One of Altynai’s most important projects while at the health department was educating the community, especially parents with children, about lead poisoning and measures they can take to keep their families healthy. “I did research on lead [poisoning] prevention, figuring out ways to communicate with the public to provide preventative tips for the community,” she says. To inform families about how to make their homes safer, Altynai shared her research and the many factors that can worsen children’s pre-existing susceptibility to lead poisoning through a presentation and public talks.
The hands-on environmental health education and experience Altynai received through her summer internship complement her double major in psychology and environmental policy and decision making. Her coursework at Puget Sound also has helped to provide context for her work in the Healthy Homes Program, helping her to understand the history of health and public health in Tacoma. The internship and her schoolwork “supplement each other,” she says.
Altynai participated in this internship as part of Puget Sound’s Reflective Immersive Sophomore Experience (RISE), which helps second year students build career knowledge through off-campus internships in their areas of interest. She earned credit through both RISE and the Environmental Policy and Decision Making Program experiential learning requirement.
When not working as an intern or studying, Altynai can be found working with the ECO Club on campus on its divestment campaign. She also is involved in the Multi Identity Based Union and the Asian American Pacific Islander Collective.
Though she will not be working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department during the academic year, this isn’t the end of Altynai’s community health work. She says, “I hope to come back here or [work at] another health department because it’s a really cool experience,” she says. “I met a lot of people who are very intelligent and inspiring. It’s a great experience to connect with those individuals.”
Ainsley Austin ’23 is a first-year student from Olympia, Wash., and is a student staff member in the Office of Communications.