A National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center of Excellence


Environmental Health Sciences Institute for Rural Youth

The Environmental Health Sciences Institute (EHSI) for Rural Youth was held from 1997-2006 as an educational outreach activity of the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center at the University of Iowa.  For most of its life, it was a full-scholarship, one-week residential experience for gifted Iowa 10th grade students from communities of less than 5,000 residents.  This population of students generally attends rural schools that are more likely to lack in-depth, environmental science opportunities.  The program was designed to expose these students to cutting-edge environmental health research at a time in their lives when they are making important decisions regarding their future studies and careers. A total of 153 students from 89 rural communities in Iowa and 10 rural communities in Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Missouri, have attended EHSI.

The EHSI aimed to serve as a conduit for attracting tomorrow’s scientists into the field of environmental health research.  Learning experiences were geared to both global environmental health as well as local issues relevant to students living in rural and agricultural areas.  Specifically, the program was designed to:

  • expose interested youth to cutting edge environmental health research
  • increase awareness of environmental health career options
  • provide support for each student to develop of two environmental health presentations in his/her home community
  • develop and maintain partnerships with rural Iowa communities to facilitate knowledge transfer
  • provide long term mentoring opportunities for gifted rural Iowa youth

Environmental Health Sciences researchers at the University of Iowa were enlisted as lecturers for the weeklong program, volunteering their time and expertise as physicians, scientists, and educators.  The program was fortunate to have a large number of faculty on site that represented the many disparate fields connected to environmental health, including research, public policy development, innovative technologies, and medicine.

Past curricula included a field trip to a working phytoremediation site in the Amana Colonies, a pathology lab session, a demonstration of current research in the Inhalation Toxicology Facility, and many classroom discussions on the topics of air quality, water quality, occupational health, and environmental policy.  Hands-on activities were integrated into the lecture and tour schedule. Students participated in mouse dissection and exposure assessment, lung capacity and dust measurement experiments, and they examined cancerous human tissues and organs.  These hands-on activities were extremely popular with the students.

Upon completion of the program, students prepared a presentation on an environmental health topic of interest and delivered it to two groups in their home town.  To help prepare them for their public speaking experience, EHSI provided instruction on library and Web research techniques, the basics of PowerPoint, and effective speech delivery.  As potential future scholars and scientists, these skills are essential to the processes of research and the communication of results.

Student Comments
I extremely enjoyed the presentation on phytoremediation.  I learned so much that I considered it a choice for presentation topics.  I didn’t know anything about it before.

I most enjoyed learning about [concentrated animal feeding operations] CAFOs.  I didn’t know much about the dangers and problems they can cause.

I’m much more interested in environmental science now.  I now realize how big of a problem it is and how little is being done, and I owe it to our Earth to do my part to protect her.

I’m more interested in environmental science now.  There are many problems/issues that I didn’t know about beforehand.  If more people know about air quality issues, phytoremediation, etc., then our world could be a better place.

I’m definitely more interested.  I have had my eyes opened to all of the different aspects of the environment.  I learned a lot and will definitely keep my interest in the environment.



  Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, The University of Iowa, University Research Park, #178 IREH, Iowa City, IA 52242

Tel: (319) 335-4756 / Fax: (319) 335-4225 / E-mail: nancy-wyland@uiowa.edu