Public Health Research Students

Public health doctoral student wants to ensure kids can grow up in healthy environments

Stephanie Foster, MPH ’18, connects her love of human health and biology with Oregon State’s environmental and occupational health doctoral program

Headshot of Stephanie Foster

By Hanna Knowles

Public health doctoral student Stephanie Foster, MPH ’18, believes all children should have the opportunity to live full and healthy lives.  

She chose to pursue her MPH and now PhD in public health, with a focus in environmental and occupational health, at Oregon State to make her belief a reality. 

Why did you choose to pursue your MPH at Oregon State?  

As I finished my bachelor’s degree at Western Oregon University, I was intrigued by the idea of a career working at the intersection of the environment and people’s health.  

After some searching online, I found a great accredited MPH program at Oregon State. I connected with some of the faculty and students and chose to dive in. 

What led you to pursue an MPH in environmental and occupational health? 

I have always been interested in human health, but biology and the natural world also became passions of mine during my undergraduate education.  

We are innately reliant and connected to our planet, yet we face so many environmental issues today.  

I wanted to pursue a career where I could fight for human health in the context of our planet’s health. This is as holistic as it gets, in my mind. 

Related, why did you choose to pursue your PhD in public health at Oregon State?  

I did an internship with the Environmental Protection Agency during my MPH program and discovered that I love research.  

While it’s a long, arduous process with a lot of rabbit holes and sticking points, it’s also rewarding to contribute to public health knowledge with hopes of making a difference.  

I chose to continue in the public health PhD program so I could learn how to do research independently and to maximize my future career potential. I didn’t want to wait and come back later to finish a degree. 

Can you tell us more about your MPH internship experience? 

With my EPA internship I got to work with a small but great team at the Western Ecology Division in Corvallis. Jana Compton was my mentor.  

Jana and her team wanted to look at trends in arsenic drinking water violations over time since there had been a change in regulations in 2001.  

The MPH requires an internship and I thought the project sounded interesting, so I hopped on board and became the leader of the project. It involved a lot of computer work, a lot of statistical analysis, and a lot of writing.  

However, I’m an independent, tenacious type who enjoys working alone for hours, so it was a good fit. The team also offered feedback and help along the way.

Our findings were interesting and relevant, so we chose to try and publish. It took a couple years from start to finish, but we did it! Interestingly, the paper on arsenic drinking water violations was published right after the birth of my son in 2019. 

What does your current environmental health research entail?  

Currently, I’m working with Professor Molly Kile and a team at OSU to explore how flame-retardant chemical exposures are related to child neurocognitive outcomes, like self-regulation and social behaviors.  

I’m also working with data from a Canadian birth cohort, called CHILD, to explore similar hypotheses, including maternal mental health.  

We think these chemicals, which are in a lot of building materials and consumer products, may be neurotoxic. 

What motivates you to research children’s environmental health? 

The way I see it, the health of our children is the health of our future.  

As a mom myself, I’m particularly motivated to ensure our kids can grow up in healthy environments without being exposed to toxic chemicals that may negatively impact their development.  

All kids should have the opportunity to live full and healthy lives. This is why I chose to focus on children’s environmental health.  

What is your vision for the future?  

My hope is to contribute to knowledge about children’s environmental health and to help apply that knowledge to communities in practical ways.  

I also hope to inspire others to live intentionally, not only for personal health, but also for healthy communities and a healthy planet. 

Learn more about environmental and occupational health graduate programs at Oregon State.