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Flexibility is key for an environmental health alum during the COVID-19 pandemic

Garrett Steiner '16 at work on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Garrett Steiner ’16 is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service and is currently assigned to the Indian Health Service in northern Wisconsin.

“While the virus has impacted communities in many ways, my team and I are primarily responsible for procuring and shipping supplies to tribal clinics and businesses throughout our service area,” said Steiner. “This has been very challenging, as critical materials, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and coronavirus (COVID-19) testing supplies have been difficult to acquire.”

As the national response to COVID-19 ramped us, Steiner was deployed to the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response (ASPR) for two months. While deployed, he served as a liaison between state health officials and the federal government.

Steiner recently returned from deployment and is not charged with assisting tribal communities with opening up. He provides technical assistance to tribal clinics, casino operations, and childcare facilities in order to ensure their communities are re-opening safely and responsibly.

“I think the biggest challenge throughout this pandemic has been learning to be flexible,” said Steiner. “Since we have all been dealing with a novel virus, it has been difficult navigating the last few months without having the validity that we can normally rely on when conducting environmental field health work.”

A young alum, the coronavirus pandemic is the first time Steiner has worked with a pandemic while in the professional world. “While I was familiar with SARS and H1N1, it has been fascinating to see firsthand how the U.S. responded to this incident, especially from an emergency management perspective. As an environmental health professional, I’m very interested to see the long-term impacts that come from this.”

A proud alum of the environmental health program, Steiner almost went down another path: He was initially a business administration major before deciding the business world wasn’t a good fit for him.

“I stumbled upon the field of environmental health on accident while working at a water treatment facility in my hometown between my freshman and sophomore years,” said Steiner. “Before that job, I had never really considered all of the important work being done behind the scenes in order to protect the health of the community from their environment.” The work he did that summer convinced him to major in environmental health upon his return to campus in the fall.

After choosing environmental health, Steiner has not looked back. “The field is extremely broad, and there are many opportunities to make a real difference,” he said, noting that his desire to make a societal impact is one thing that led him to this major.

“The environmental health major at ISU will provide you with the skills necessary to have a successful career,” said Steiner. “The faculty care very much about the success of their students and provide excellent support to their recent graduates.”

Think environmental health might be the major for you? Learn more here.

Read about Illinois State University’s coronavirus response at Coronavirus.IllinoisState.edu and learn more at cdc.gov/coronavirus.