Representatives from more than 40 schools in Lebanon came together on 23 November 2017 to announce the launch of the “AUB Collaborating School Network for a Healthy Environment”, a pioneering initiative led by the Department of Environmental Health at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS, AUB).
The workshop addressed the urgent need to prepare a workforce with expertise in environmental health, introducing participants to the different academic and practical components of the Environmental Health program at FHS, as well as the diverse career opportunities that await graduates in this field.
The event was opened with a speech by Dean of FHS Iman Nuwayhid who welcomed the attendees and underlined the crucial role of schools in the public health field in general and environmental health in particular. “Schools are an extension of what we believe in and work for, to help communities and make the change”, stated Dean Nuwayhid, stressing the growing need for expertise in the field of environmental health in Lebanon, and confirming AUB leading role in responding to it
Dr. Rima Habib, Chair of the Environmental Health Department, discussed the current environmental challenges impacting every aspect of life on this planet. ”As the whole world acknowledges the need to take key steps to further explore and protect the human-environment relationship, it has become crucial to raise a wary and leading generation in this field”, stated Dr. Habib. “The recent garbage crisis in Lebanon is one of the few examples of how vital it is to spread knowledge and awareness among the students in Lebanon, and through them to the whole society”.
In her turn, career counselor at FHS, Ms. Nida’ El Helou presented to the participants the career counseling services at FHS, the main competencies and skills provided to Environmental Health graduates, and the career opportunities they have. “Students at FHS are offered a wide support through capacity building, identifying job opportunities, and networking, especially with FHS alumni,” said Ms. El Helou.
The variety and high positions occupied by AUB environmental health graduates across different sectors and all around the globe reinforces networking as a key tool for AUB community in general.
Ms. El Helou also pointed out to important figures on job sectors in which graduates from the Environmental Health Department at FHS are currently active. “21% of our graduates work in international organizations, 20% in the academic sector, 18% in private organizations (hospitals, industries, consulting agencies, universities, etc.), 18% in non-governmental organizations, and 9% of them work in public or governmental organization,” She said.
Participants then listened to the learning experiences of AUB graduates: Dr. Zainab Kassem and Acile Nahlawi. Dr. Kassem, had obtained a Bachelor degree in Biology, and is now working in research in the field of Environmental Health, “something that I always wanted to do” she stated. While, Acile Nahlawi had recently graduated with a BS in Environmental Health, and is pursuing her studies in the Medical School at AUB. Both, Zainab and Acile, called schools representatives to ensure that their students are provided good, clear, and accurate academic guidance, praising this Network as an ideal platform for this crucial task.
In the same context, Dr. Joumana Nasr, Registration Advisor at the Environmental Health Department, featured the advantages of joining the Medical School from the Environmental Health major. She explained the requirements for Environmental Health students to apply for Medical School as well as the student selection criteria.
“Environmental Health students are at an advantage to get into the School of Medicine due to small student-to-faculty ratio, small class size, friendly environment, continuous students’ monitoring, high interaction between students and faculty members.”
In addition to the academic and professional characteristics, the workshop also addressed the importance of Physical School Environment. Prof. Mey Jurdi gave a presentation about the World Health Organization framework in this regard, which is endorsed by the Ministries of Public Health, and Education and Higher Education in Lebanon. “Upgrading the physical school environment is associated with several health outcomes such as: improved nutrition status; decreased incidence of infections related to waterborne diseases, foodborne diseases, and respiratory diseases; decreased cigarette smoking and drug abuse; improved mentored physical exercise; increased psychological stability; and decreased accidents and unintentional injuries rates.”
Schools representatives then participated in a survey which allows a better understanding of the major environmental concerns in schools in Lebanon, particularly in fields such as food, water management, sanitation, and hygiene. Answers are to be analyzed by the Environmental Health Department and shared within the Network at a first stage, while exploring means to transform these valuable inputs into more tangible policies and actions.
Thanking participants for their interactive and fruitful participation, Dr. Rima Habib concluded by explaining more about the ambitious objectives of this Network, focusing on raising awareness among Lebanese youth, particularly high school students, about the local, regional, and global challenges in environmental health, and the significant and potent role of Environmental Health experts in addressing them. The Network will also seek to prepare students for university and campus life, by giving them opportunities to engage with university faculty and students, and to grapple with challenging, real world environmental problems. Future activities will include workshops and training programs and will involve the students enrolled in schools that are part of this remarkable academic Network.