Looking Beyond Medicine to Promote Public Health

Naila Segule ’20 spent the summer interning with the NC Department of Public Health (NC DPH) Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB). Her responsibilities expanded from disaster epidemiology to include working with the North Carolina Courts to safely resume jury trials, tracking carbon monoxide reporting, workplace epidemiology, and environmental justice report writing. She shared reflections on her experience. 

Naila Segule

How did you find this internship?

I was originally supposed to be interning on Capitol Hill but that opportunity was postponed due to COVID-19. After my final exams, I began looking for a new internship and decided to reach out to a guest lecturer from my lead epidemiology class at NC State. The guest lecturer worked at NC DPH and I was able to learn about the disaster epidemiology project. 

What types of projects did you work on this summer?

I edited a best practices recommendations guide for the Judicial Branch COVID-19 Task Force, assisted in sharing COVID-19 guidance for transitional housing for individuals released from prison, and worked on some Wake County-specific jury guidance. For workplace epidemiology, I helped write the report for a study conducted by my supervisor Gialana Dang on UNC Housekeeping Services and staff health in the workplace. As part of my responsibilities related to carbon monoxide reporting, I wrote SAS code to aid data collection and analysis of carbon monoxide reports. OEEB usually does frequent reporting on this occupational hazard. For disaster epidemiology, I tracked the potential health effects of chemical spills and natural disasters. My responsibilities included data entry and analysis while transitioning to a new database. 

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your internship?

I had to adjust to a virtual internship where I was not able to meet my colleagues in person. However, check-ins and informational interviews were useful in creating community in our branch. The main COVID-19 project I worked on was reopening jury trials for the courts during the pandemic. For this project, I attended a lot of webinars and task force meetings with the North Carolina Courts to learn how social distancing guidelines can be applied in a court setting. This experience has been valuable in shedding light on the importance of bringing in different perspectives to an issue since many lawyers don’t have a public health background and public health professionals don’t always understand the different aspects of how courts operate. 

What was the most challenging part of this internship?

My main challenge in this role was time management as I had to juggle four different supervisors, meetings, and keeping everything organized. What helped me was blocking off my calendar, using separate notebooks for each project, finding time to take walks outside, and being direct with supervisors if something was unclear or if I needed additional time. My previous internships have been crucial in preparing me for the challenges I encountered in this role. My previous experiences also taught me the importance of taking initiative and asking for help. This led to me telling my supervisors if I could handle and wanted additional work and getting the necessary help quickly instead of wasting time looking for solutions that might not work. 

What are some of your takeaways from this internship?

My role helped me learn more about how departments of public health operate and how they can be used as a vehicle for change. My previous public health experience was tied to academia, so this internship was my first chance to see how public health employees balance governmental priorities and public health research. I also learned the importance of being able to communicate our findings to the public and plan to take courses on scientific communication in the future to grow this skill. This internship provided useful experience working with common public health research tools like SAS and RedCap that will set me apart from other applicants for future jobs and internships. Lastly, this internship helped me better understand the theory that I will be learning in the fall as I pursue a master’s degree in environmental health. 

How has your experience at NC State and/or as a Park Scholar shaped your career interests?

Naila Segule
Naila Segule (right) studying abroad in Botswana.

The summer after my freshman year, I studied abroad in Botswana with Elena Price ’20 and former Park Faculty Scholar James Kiwanuka-Tondo. While there, I took classes on public health and communication, learned about the amazing work that USAID was doing to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission, and became interested in working at the agency and in pursuing public health. 

After that experience, I decided to find a research opportunity at NC State that would enable me to work in community-based public health and was fortunate enough to join the GenX Exposure Study. I loved getting the opportunity to design the study and work in data collection during our in-the-field clinic days. I decided to create my own major, global health communication and development, so that I could develop an interdisciplinary background and learn more about the theory of public health. 

One of my favorite jobs at NC State was serving as an Engineering Ambassador and a teaching assistant for E101 and E102 for two years. TAing has shown me my passion for educating others and helped me quickly adapt whether that meant helping to change a syllabus during the pandemic or grading 120 midterms in three days. 

How did you decide what you want to research and how you want to shape your career? Which experiences and mentors have been influential in guiding you along the way?

My senior year was the first time that I got to pick a research topic as an undergraduate. I chose to focus on trans-inclusive healthcare at the 16 UNC System universities as a Juanita Bryan CSW Scholar with WomenNC. I was inspired to do this project after working in Student Government during my junior year and learning that the UNC Board of Governors had banned gender-inclusive housing. I was curious how these kinds of policies translated into our on-campus health resources and was able to present at RTI as well as at the virtual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. I like my research topics to promote health equity because not everyone has access to health care and bias significantly affects the medical care that different patients receive. 

Park Scholarships helped give me the confidence to pursue unique opportunities and make interesting connections. During Learning Lab II, I talked to Maggie Linak ’06 who worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She encouraged me to apply to be a Virtual Student Federal Service intern and this helped me gain experience working for the federal government while living in North Carolina. I have also used the “Get Your Luck” exercise to reach out to people on LinkedIn to learn about their journeys — this helped me become a SustainUS Youth delegate and attend the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Katowice, Poland my junior year. NC State and Park Scholarships have provided me with so many mentors and life-long friends who have helped me as I followed new paths, learned about new interests, and graduated with two degrees. 

My key mentors have been my Park mentor Jane Hoppin, my global public health professor/Student Health Services Director Julie Casani, my National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge mentor Javon Adams, and the Park Scholarships staff! 

What advice do you have for Park Scholars?

Understand the importance of exposing yourself to different perspectives and sharing what you’ve learned, whether that means reading research from other disciplines, taking an interdisciplinary course, or looking at news sites from other countries. You never know when this knowledge can be useful in your career. There are many times in meetings when I’ll bring new ideas that others haven’t thought about or the reverse, and this is only the case because I am always learning new things and unafraid to share them. 

Be open to any internship as they all have something to teach you and use whatever connections you have — even a one-day guest lecturer. If you want a specific internship, search until you find it. Last year, I wanted to work on public health abroad and kept researching until I fortunately found and was chosen to be a National Institutes of Health Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Fellow. I traveled to Armenia where I researched thyroid disease. If you’re struggling to find an internship, use this time to develop a new skill, create a project you’ve always wanted to or reach out to new connections like different professors and professionals to see if they’ll have remote opportunities you can join or interview them to learn about their path. 

Naila Segule
While researching thyroid disease in Armenia, Naila Segule (right) trained Armenian
graduate students on the use of spirometers, interviewed local police officers about
domestic violence, and assisted in an Armenian environmental pollutant analysis.

What’s next for you?

This fall, I am pursuing a master’s in environmental health at Harvard University and then will be a USAID Foreign Service Officer for five years as part of the USAID Donald M. Payne Fellowship. I am hoping to pursue a Ph.D. in the future. 

Though Harvard will be online this fall, I am working virtually with Joseph Allen and the Healthy Buildings Team. I previously met them on a visit to Boston in February and have joined their daily morning check-ins. Their team is currently examining how to design buildings to decrease disease transmission and has been invaluable for helping people get back to work in this pandemic. I am hoping to do my master’s thesis on how prisons and jails can be designed to decrease disease transmission like COVID-19.