UMF student interns prepare as health industry professionals

5 mins read
Kendra Burgess and Wendy Castonguay, University of Maine at Farmington Community Health Education majors, are serving semester-long internships with Bath Iron Works “Fit for Life” health program.

FARMINGTON – Kendra Burgess, a senior from Chelsea, came to the University of Maine at Farmington as a first-year student undecided on a major, but with a strong desire to be involved in the helping professions.

After speaking with her advisor, Cynthia McShane, assistant director of Career Services, she took several introductory health classes. That marked the beginning of her UMF journey to becoming career ready.

Burgess is now interning with an employee health program at Bath Iron Works and preparing to graduate this coming spring with a major in Community Health Education. Her semester-long, 600-hour internship is a graduation requirement of her major and provides her with on-the-job experience and skills that will help prepare her for her life’s work as a health industry professional.

“I am thrilled with the opportunity to apply what I have learned at UMF in the real world,” Burgess said. “I can’t think of a better career goal than to help Maine people and their families live healthier lives.”

“BIW Fit for Life” is a broad employee health program aimed at helping employees and their families live healthy lives. Coordinated by Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, the workplace health program provides participants with an annual health screening, a comprehensive set of health promotion strategies and educational programs, and health coach support.

One of Burgess’ professional interests is nutrition and the health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. Her internship focuses on improving employee access to better food while educating them on the benefits of this food. This is largely accomplished by providing participating BIW employees and their families with regular access to organic produce through a Community Supported Agriculture farm share program.

The CSA, provided by Harvest Tide Organics in Bowdoinham, offers BIW members the option to purchase customizable shares of seasonal, locally-grown, organic vegetables on a weekly or bi-weekly basis throughout the year.

Burgess keeps program communications updated, creating employee service announcements through various communication tools, including social media and a digital bulletin board. She also connects with the CSA farmer to help make deliveries, which take place at multiple locations throughout the shipyard.

Wendy Castonguay, a non-traditional UMF student from Wayne, is also working as an intern with the BIW Fit for Life program.

She first attended a small West Virginia college at 18, but took time off to raise and homeschool her children. When ready to complete her degree she chose UMF’s Community Health Education program.

“UMF has been the best place for me,” said Castonguay. “I’ve felt very included in the group dynamics in my classes and my professors have been wonderful about looking for my perspective and input as a non-traditional student.”

The BIW internship was recommended to her by Maurice Martin, UMF professor of Community Health, and has fit well with her interests. She is especially interested in providing individuals with prevention education on topics like diabetes and tobacco cessation. Her main role at BIW, a non-smoking facility, is to promote the shipyard’s nicotine replacement therapy initiative.

Castonguay helps connect employees and spouses with tobacco related resources including health coaching and over-the-counter nicotine replacement products. She also promotes other available resources such as community tobacco support groups, the Maine Tobacco Helpline and an app that gives access to online classes and support. The Fit for Life program currently has 140 people working towards quitting tobacco.

“There are just so many different directions and health education specialties you can pursue with the UMF program,” said Castonguay. “I remember asking Professor Martin, ‘What can you do with a major in Community Health Education?’ His reply—‘Anything you want.’”

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