Stephen F. Austin State University senior Junior Elechi interned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the summer alongside students from throughout the nation. Elechi boasted the many network opportunities he received. In fact, he said he is still in contact with many of the students pictured on his phone. Each week, the interns immersed themselves in different environmental themes such as air, water and food, and they met with professionals involved in these areas for discussion.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Atlanta skyscrapers replaced the towering East Texas' pines as Stephen F. Austin State University senior health science major Junior Elechi traveled to Georgia for a 10-week internship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the summer.

A native of the Houston area, Elechi began college with the goal of becoming a dentist, but quickly switched his focus to health science. He is a member of SFA's School of Honors and plans to graduate in December with his bachelor's degree.

Elechi's experience in Atlanta began when he received an email from SFA's School of Honors about various summer research opportunities. On a hunch, he applied.

"I really didn't think I was going to get in," Elechi said. "It was one of those things where you just throw your net out and hope for the best."

After a phone call and several emails, Elechi was excited to learn he had secured a position in the CDC's internship program.

Twenty-four interns from throughout the nation joined Elechi for the CDC internship. Elechi was a member of the Collegiate Leaders in Environmental Health section of the program, which fell under the non-accredited environmental health major program within the internship. Each week, the program focused on a different environmental theme such as air, water and food, and the interns met with professionals involved in these areas for discussion. When not immersed in the program activities, interns worked with their own supervisors on individual projects.

"I gained a lot from this experience. Not only did I learn how to properly network, but I also learned so much about the environment and how people are affected by things," Elechi said. "I learned how to take care of myself and others around me."

Additionally, the interns went on field trips to gain insight on professional industries within their areas of study. Such trips included visiting the Georgia Aquarium, water-utility sites, urban garden, air-quality sites and more.

Elechi can attest to the many benefits internships offer students, and said he strongly encourages students to apply.

"The network and opportunities are unparalleled, and you get to see what you are interested in," he said. "It is a good experience for students to see if a particular area is something they want to pursue further or not."

Public health communication is one area that stood out to Elechi during this program. He commented on how communication is key in helping societies move forward in disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola outbreak.

"You never really understand how important communication is, but people need to be educated and informed on things that are going on so they can better prepare for situations," he said.

Elechi's main project while interning for the CDC was creating a game to educate middle school students on toxic substances found in the environment. He was in charge of selecting a format for the game, creating the content and editing the material. Elechi said the game follows a mission format.

"We picked common substances that kids come in contact with like benzene, radon, lead, tobacco, and things like that," Elechi said. "There is a mission for each substance and players go through the mission to educate themselves."

Elechi hopes his hard work will pay off and that the game will be created within the next two years.

Elechi has returned to the pines and is currently completing his final semester at SFA. He hopes to attend graduate school to earn a master's degree in public health or to secure a job working in the field. Regardless of where his future will take him, Elechi attributes much of his success to his SFA instruction and the CDC internship.

"The network and opportunities I received during my internship were great. The program helped me decide what to focus my career on and my goals," Elechi said. "All the health science professors at SFA have been integral in the pursuit of my career goals."