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UW-Eau Claire ENPH Graduate Student
Spends Summer with World Health Organization

RELEASED: Oct. 4, 2007

UW-Eau Claire graduate student Messie Squire
UW-Eau Claire graduate student Messie Squire. (contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate student in environmental public health spent three months this past summer as an intern for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Messie Squire, who is from Sierra Leone and received her bachelor of science degree in environmental health from Solusi University in Zimbabwe, said she found the information on the WHO internship the same way she found the ENPH graduate program at UW-Eau Claire — on the internet.

"I am very passionate on the subject of environmental and public health and I was looking for a graduate program that combined both areas," Squire said, noting that many universities that she investigated offer graduate programs in one or the other of those areas, but not both.

Similarly, when she went looking for an internship opportunity, Squire said she was hoping to work for an organization with a wide reach that could offer opportunities to be exposed to environmental and public health issues that affect many areas of the world. Eventually, Squire found herself in the enviable position of being able to choose between the WHO internship and a very competitive placement with another public health agency, but after weighing the relative merits of each, she made her decision and headed to Switzerland.

Squire said she worked in the food zoonoses (diseases or infections that are naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans) and food borne diseases department of WHO, concentrating on research that works to track and monitor chemicals found in food that can cause illness. She was specifically working with WHO's Global Environment Monitoring System-Food Contamination Monitoring and Assessment Program, or GEMS/Food, which informs governments and other relevant institutions, as well as the public, on levels and trends of contaminants in food, their contribution to total human exposure and significance with regard to public health and trade. The GEMS/Food international databases include data on contaminants in individual foods or food groups and on contaminants in the total diet.

"I reviewed research sent to the World Health Organization from different countries, identified the data that was relevant, and then updated the WHO database," said Squire. "There is a list of priority chemicals, such as PCBs, DDT, persistent organic pollutants, dioxins and lead, that WHO is particularly interested in monitoring. I also carried out a study analysis on the estimate of the intake of lead from fish consumption."

While in Geneva, Squire also worked with other WHO interns on several fundraising efforts, helping to pay for boxes of materials on HIV/AIDS preventions, known as "red trunks," which are then distributed to the countries most in need, and raising funds for an orphanage in South Africa.

"I just totally enjoyed all of it," Squire said. "Geneva was also a very beautiful place to live and work."

Dr. Robert Nelson, who has had Squire in several classes and was one of several professors who wrote recommendation letters for her, said she was a logical choice for the WHO internship and he found it easy to recommend her.

"In my opinion, some of the most important attributes to consider regarding potential success of an intern student — and of a future employee are attitude, personality, enthusiasm, communication skill and work ethic. Not only does Messie have the academic skills, broad knowledge of environmental health, and aforementioned personal qualities, she also has a deep understanding and appreciation for global health issues," said Nelson. "She has lived in a part of the world where waterborne diseases, vector borne diseases and other environmental sanitation problems are common and thus have a huge impact on the well being of the people."

When Squire graduates with her master's degree, which she anticipates will be this December, she said she will apply for work almost anywhere in the world that will continue to provide her with a broad experience in environment public health, with a bias toward food hygiene and safety.

"I believe that with Messie's personal insight into world health issues, her current academic preparation, and her hope for furthering her education at a major school of public health, she will be wonderfully prepared to be an outstanding leader, educator and researcher — not only in her native country, but in any area of the world in vital need of public health skill," said Nelson.



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