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UW-Eau Claire student awarded prestigious EPA fellowship

October 16, 2012
Rachael Korinek
Rachael Korinek (photo by Stacy Huse)
EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student has been awarded the Environmental Protection Agency's National Center for Environmental Research Greater Research Opportunities Fellowship for Undergraduate Environmental Study.

Junior Rachael Korinek, an environmental public health major from Rochester, Minn., is one of 40 undergraduate students from around the country who have been selected for this prestigious fellowship. The award, which spans over two academic years and includes a paid summer internship at an EPA facility, is worth up to $48,900.

"I am so excited about the opportunities that this fellowship affords me," Korinek said. "The internship next summer at an EPA facility will help me determine what direction I want to pursue after graduation. The conferences I will attend through the allowances will hopefully further my knowledge and allow me to network in my field."

Korinek said her application focused on her personal battle with late-stage Lyme disease. After being chronically ill and undiagnosed for five years, Korinek was forced to drop out of college in 2010. In early 2011 she was properly diagnosed and started treatment, and after a few months she transferred to UW-Eau Claire to resume classes.

"I am bordering-on-obsessively passionate about vector-borne diseases and doing all that I personally can to ensure that no one else has to go through what I did," she said. "I want to further the research and knowledge about the field so that I can ensure a better outcome for others."

Korinek's fellowship application came out of a fall 2011 grant-writing workshop through UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Kerrie Ackerson, contracts and grants manager at Cooperative Educational Service Agency 10, gave Korinek feedback on her application.

"Rachael has every reason to be proud of her work on the EPA fellowship application," Ackerson said. "Her personal determination paid off, and the research made possible by the fellowship has the potential to help many people who suffer the effects of Lyme disease here in Wisconsin and around the country."

The GRO fellowship program aims to encourage students to continue their education beyond the baccalaureate level and to pursue careers in environmental fields. The program is part of a national effort to help ensure that the United States meets its current and projected human resource needs in the fields of environmental science, engineering and policy.

Dr. Crispin Pierce, associate professor of environmental public health and Korinek's academic and research adviser, said that all students in the environmental public health program must complete a 400-hour internship. He believes the EPA fellowship is just the right one for Korinek.

"I can think of no better challenging environmental science internship for Rachael than the EPA NCER experience, in which I have no doubt she will grow and make significant contributions," Pierce said.

According to Pierce, Korinek is among the "three brightest and most assiduous students" that the environmental public health program has seen in a decade. Despite only transferring to UW-Eau Claire a year ago, she has emerged as a leader both in and out of the classroom and has participated in various student-faculty partnerships.

"The environmental public health program at UW-Eau Claire welcomed me from day one and gave me access to many different experiences and resources that undoubtedly strengthened my fellowship application," Korinek said.

Among those experiences were serving as treasurer (and now vice president) of the campus chapter of the Student National Environmental Health Association; a work study experience doing support tasks for environmental public health faculty; applying for and being accepted to attend a radon workshop in Washington, D.C.; and serving on the search committee for the position of associate dean in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

"There are many opportunities for any student at UW-Eau Claire; the key is to be relentless in going after what you want," Korinek said, noting that students should seek out opportunities and be open to new experiences. "I found the details for my fellowship at the bottom of an email from my professor about a grant-writing workshop. There are opportunities everywhere if you're willing to work hard and take some chances."

Pierce said that by participating in the EPA fellowship Korinek sets a good example, not only for students in the program, but within the entire university as well.

"Rachael's recognition as an EPA NCER fellow will support her continued leadership as a student, intern and researcher in our environmental health program," Pierce said. "With her communication skills and natural camaraderie with others in our program, the NCER support will help distinguish her as a role model benefitting dozens of students at UW-Eau Claire."

Although Korinek is currently unsure of her specific plans after graduating, she has a clear goal of helping others who have experienced illnesses similar to her own.

"My goal throughout this fellowship and all of my education is to do the most good for the patients in the vector-borne disease community," Korinek said. "Time will tell whether this involves medical school or graduate school after I finish my bachelor's degree in environmental public health, but I am excited to see where this opportunity with the EPA takes me."

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