Science & Technology

Health Is a Team Effort: USU Industrial Hygiene Scholar Awarded National Scholarships

Undergrad researcher, mining safety intern, critical care technician, CPR instructor, English language tutor and dad-to-be Wes Christensen pursues a busy schedule on the path to medical school.

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

USU industrial hygiene scholar Wes Christensen was recently awarded two scholarships from the American Industrial Hygiene Association. An undergrad researcher at USU's Institute for Antiviral Research, Christensen is an URCO grant recipient. The aspiring physician works as a critical care technician at Logan Regional Hospital, and is a CPR instructor for the non-profit First Aid Access organization. (Photo Credit: USU/M. Muffoletto)

Utah State University scholar Wes Christensen’s undergraduate career has been busy and diverse both on and off campus, but an underlying theme during his efforts in the classroom, lab, workplace and public health outreach efforts has been the importance of teamwork.

“From my early USU years, when I was working as a certified nursing assistant, until now with my work in critical care, research and teaching CPR, I recognize the importance, in promoting public health, of health practitioners, patients and the community working together as a team,” Christensen says. “There are so many facets to health, it’s important to understand the context of health in both individuals’ lives and within their community.”

The American Industrial Hygiene Association awarded Christensen two endowed scholarship awards, which were announced during the association’s annual meeting, AIHA Connect 2024, held May 20-22 in Columbus, Ohio. The Ogden, Utah native received the association’s Kyle B. Dotson Scholarship and the Dr. Morton Lippmann Scholarship. Together, the scholarships total $7,000.

“I am very grateful and humbled to receive these scholarships and thankful to the donors who established them,” Christensen says. “This support is pivotal to my undergraduate efforts.”

The aspiring physician chose USU’s ABET-accredited Public Health, Industrial Hygiene emphasis degree program as his major because protecting people at work, he says, where they spend a significant portion of their lives, is crucial to their overall health.

“Preventive health measures are critical to one’s health and, through my academic, workplace and internship experiences, I’ve come to see the extreme value of industrial hygiene and workplace safety,” Christensen says. “No one goes to work planning to get hurt or sick, but a dangerous environment can change someone’s life, and their family’s lives, in an instant.”

As part of USU’s degree program, Christensen spent a summer as an industrial hygiene intern at Kennecott-Rio Tinto’s massive Bingham Canyon copper mine west of Salt Lake City.

“As a child, I played with Tonka trucks and, there I was, at the mine, with similar trucks the size of houses,” he says. “It was fascinating, and I learned a lot from hands-on sampling of air, noise and vibration. It was a valuable experience to see real-time results and to work toward mitigating risks to miners.”

At USU, with encouragement from College of Science peer mentor Nick Hill, Christensen applied for, and secured, an undergraduate research position in Utah State’s Institute for Antiviral Research in May 2022. Working with faculty mentors Justin Julander and Brett Hurst, the undergrad researcher continues his work at the institute, where he and Hurst are developing a mouse model to test antivirals against Human Parechovirus (PeV).

“Parechovirus causes common viral infections, but it can also cause very serious, sometimes fatal, infections in infants, especially those younger than three months of age,” Christensen says. “Severe symptoms can include life-threatening neurological conditions.”

The Aggie received an Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) grant in December 2023 from USU’s Office of Research to support his work with Julander and Hurst.

“This project, along with the experience of working in a research lab, has helped me develop a passion for inquisitive thinking,” Christensen says. “I’ve also developed an appreciation for virology, and the critical steps involved in developing vaccines and therapeutics.”

Beyond the classroom and the lab, Christensen works part-time in Logan Regional Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and also volunteers as a cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructor with the student-run non-profit First Aid Access organization. To date, the undergrad estimates he’s taught 200 people how to administer CPR.

“My goal is to double that number by the time I graduate from Utah State in May 2025,” he says.

In the coming year, Christensen also plans to take the MCAT, apply to medical schools and, with his wife, Mia, welcome their first child.

“I don’t get a lot of sleep,” he admits. “But I’ve been blessed with so many great opportunities at Utah State.”

Christensen praises Department of Biology faculty members John Flores and Carl Farley, who teach industrial hygiene courses, as well as Principal Lecturer Andy Anderson, who teaches anatomy, physiology and bioethics.

“All of them are amazing teachers, who give valuable guidance and truly care about their students,” he says. “I highly recommend USU’s industrial hygiene program, and I’m grateful for the experiences and career preparation I’ve received from being part of it.”

WRITER

Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science
435-797-3517
maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

CONTACT

Wes Christensen
Undergraduate Scholar
Public Health, Industrial Hygiene, Department of Biology
wes.christensen@usu.edu


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