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Public health internships span the Beaver State and the globe

Karen Elliott guides students through their first public health position

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Karen Elliott asks students to look within themselves and pinpoint what makes them wake up excited to go to work as she prepares them for internships in Oregon and beyond.

As one of the college’s seasoned instructors and undergraduate public health internship coordinators, Karen says it’s fun to work with students every day.

“They’re so committed to the process and eager to learn about different career options. I feel grateful to be involved at this point of their lives and to be able to work with them and see them transition from classroom to internship.”

Karen’s role involves guiding students through the entire internship process, starting with a pre-internship (H407) course and then the actual internship (H410), consisting of 360 hours. She also teaches a health field experiences (H310) course that provides an introductory field experience in a health-related worksite.

Karen joined the CPHHS in 2007, first as a member of its instructional faculty. In 2012, she became the public health internship coordinator, and in 2015 she was promoted to senior instructor. Although she’s taught nine different course since 2007, these days she focuses all of her attention on the three internship classes that set her students on the path to success.

“Internships help prepare students for the next big step,” Karen says. “That could be a job, graduate school or nursing school.”

Since serving as the undergraduate internship coordinator, Karen has worked with countless students to guide them into placements suited to their interests and skills.

She’s successfully assisted students in securing placements in a variety of sites, including Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Washington, Marquis Companies in Portland and throughout Oregon, Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, and Corvallis Clinic and the OSU Extension Service in Corvallis.

Internships are not limited to local sites. Karen has placed students across the country, including Washington, California, Nevada and Hawaii. There’s even some – about two to three each term ­– who do their internships overseas in places such as Scotland, South Africa, India, Malaysia and Japan, in conjunction with OSU’s IE3 international internship program.

Karen’s dedication to her role in the college and to her students recently earned her the college’s Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring Award. Her nominator, Professor and Head of the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences Sheryl Thorburn, says that Karen is open and welcoming to students and faculty alike.

“I was motivated by Karen’s dedication, positive attitude and commitment to providing high-quality internship opportunities and experiences for our undergraduate public health students,” Sheryl says. “She is very effective at her job – an outstanding instructor who engages students with her knowledge, approach, enthusiasm and use of diverse teaching methods.”

Karen attributes much of her success to a supportive team that works collaboratively with the best interests of students in­­­­ mind. “I couldn’t do it alone. I’m part of an amazing team,” she says. “The school heads are phenomenal and support the internship program. The other internship coordinators and everyone in the advising office are all so important to the process.”

“I think part of our job in higher education is to make sure that we have successful young professionals,” she says. “Part of that it is providing them with the proper tools and guiding them through the process.”

Karen’s mission is to prepare students for success and place them in an internship that they don’t go to each day only because they need the credits. She hopes that with proper preparation and self-reflection, her students are doing something they are truly passionate about.

She has some advice for students who are entering into the internship phase of their education. Aside from looking deep within and being introspective in asking what it is that truly motivates you, she says that it’s important to identify key strengths and the things that set you apart from others.

“I tell students to be open to all possibilities,” Karen says. “When you stop thinking about a grade or credits and ask yourself what it is you’re supposed to do, you will start to discover amazing things about yourself. You start asking things like, ‘Do I want to sit at a desk all day?’ or ‘Do I thrive under pressure?’”

“The main thing is to know yourself, what fuels your fire and what gets you going.”