Deep in the Wilds of Alaska

OOMPH Alumna Korie Hickel

Korie Hickel, Class of 2014

Graduate Korie Hickel is taking her public health knowledge to the arctic North. Specifically, she’s alleviating the negative effects of climate change in various Alaskan communities. An environmental health consultant at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), Hickel is delivering much-needed support to financially disparaged communities.

Combating Global Change
“The effects of climate change are accelerated in Alaska, as they are affecting human health and the environment, including the built environment,” Hickel says. “I’m traveling to a community that is literally eroding into the sea. The people there can’t get money for a basic public health infrastructure such as water and sewer systems. They rely on what they can haul to and from their homes.”

As such, Hickel is working with a team to install and assess nine in-home sanitation units that will provide clean drinking water, as well as replace the washbasin and honey buckets with working sinks and toilets. “The units are also portable so they can be moved when the community relocates to safer ground, which the people will be forced to do soon,” she adds. “Many communities in Alaska will never be able to have piped water and sewers due to a multitude of reasons, so we are working to find a solution that will cost-effectively provide residents with basic public health needs. This will give them a better chance to protect their health and the health of their families.”

Deep in the trenches, Hickel puts the OOMPH program’s overarching theories, strategies and concepts into her work each day. For example, she describes, classes that included information on program planning and evaluation, cross-cultural communication and organizational behavior have direct affiliation to her full-time position. “I have moved up in management, and knowing how to work with my customers and serve them and their needs is almost as important as knowing how to work with your team to accomplish challenging and complex tasks in a stressful environment,” she adds. “Survey design is a skill I use daily—many people don’t understand the complexity of developing good surveys, and I am very thankful for my training in that!”

Reflections
A recent ambassador for the program, Hickel is happy to have had the opportunity to help future students make an informed decision and find the degree a good fit for them. Many times, students will ask her how to fit graduate-level studies with their full-time work schedule. For Hickel, diligently scheduling time into her work was key. “My employer was flexible,” she explains, “so I was able to adjust my work week to 9-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and then a half-day on Friday. I also read while on the bike at the gym and took materials with me so I could pull them out when I found time.”

In addition, Hickel happily relates new friendships fostered while in the program. True, with an online degree your classmates are “scattered across the country and working in various fields, but I can call on my Berkeley friends if I happen to be in town or just need a work-related resource,” she says. “It’s encouraging to know that support continues after graduation from both program staff and fellow classmates. I recently had a layover in Portland, Oregon, and went to a classmate’s Barre3 class that she teaches just to catch up. It’s a fun, personal touch that needs to be told.”