Western-EPA agreement provides internships for Cherokee students

CULLOWHEE – A partnership between Western Carolina University and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened the door this summer for two Western students with Native American roots to gain valuable experience working for the federal agency.

Charles Adam Reagan

Charles Adam Reagan

Charles Adam Reagan of Whittier and Joshua Thomas Parker of Cherokee, both environmental health majors, fulfilled eight-week internships with the EPA, including duties at the agency’s Region 4 office in Atlanta and field work in Cherokee. Reagan, a member of the Western Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma, has now earned his bachelor’s degree at Western, while Parker, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is a sophomore at the university.

The internship opportunities for the two students were provided for in an updated agreement between Western and the EPA, said Tom Hatley, the university’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies.

The university and federal agency originally entered into a “memorandum of understanding” in June 2001. Through that agreement, the Science and Ecosystem Support Division from EPA’s Atlanta office hosted visits by Western faculty and students for consultation, meetings, workshops and short courses. Representatives from the EPA division also taught a course in “Environmental Field Investigations” during fall semester 2003 at Western. The course will be offered again this fall, with EPA staff providing occasional speakers on specific program topics.

“The updated memorandum of understanding is built on the earlier one, but the new agreement emphasizes bringing Native American students into science and natural resource pathways,” Hatley said. “The job options for Native American students in the sciences are wide, but few are entering higher education programs and going on to work in agencies, research or their own tribal governments.

Joshua Thomas Parker

Joshua Thomas Parker

“This agreement brings the Eastern Band, Western and the EPA together in attempting to reach students in public schools and bring them through the system to science careers that can make a difference for their communities,” Hatley said.

Reagan and Parker worked this summer in the EPA’s Air Pesticides and Toxics Management Division. Stephanie A. Lankford, a grants specialist in the EPA’s Region 4 office, said the internships were “a wonderful experience for both the agency and the students” and that Reagan and Parker earned “rave reviews” from EPA staff members.

Reagan’s work centered on radon detection. During the first four weeks of his internship, Reagan worked with EPA staff in Atlanta to develop a plan for surveying radon levels in structures on the Qualla Boundary. The last four weeks of the internship were spent carrying out a pilot survey by placing test kits in numerous public and private structures.

During the first half of his internship, Parker worked at the EPA’s Air Toxics Monitoring Branch in carrying out a review of existing monitoring regulations. His work in Cherokee included establishing an ozone monitor at a low elevation site in Cherokee to complement an existing ozone monitor at a high-elevation site.

Reagan is the son of Gerald and Arlene Reagan of Whittier and graduated from Smoky Mountain High School in 1996. Parker, son of Gerard Parker and Doris Sneed, graduated from Swain County High School in 2003.

The updated agreement between Western and the EPA extends through 2007. In addition to continuing to provide internship opportunities for Cherokee students, the agreement also calls for the university and agency to explore the possibility of establishing a summer science field camp to encourage high school students to pursue careers in the natural sciences.

Joining Hatley in negotiating the new agreement with the EPA were Peter Bates, associate professor of geosciences and natural resources management; Beth Allan, director of the Center for Math and Science Education in Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions; Burt Ogle, assistant professor of health sciences; and Roseanna Belt, director of the Cherokee Center. David Butcher, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and Cynthia Atterholt, head of the department of chemistry and physics, coordinate the EPA’s involvement in Western’s curriculum.