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REH Fellowship Recipients

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The Rural Environmental Health training program started out as an internal short-term pilot program, which was offered by the Global Change Center and funded by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute from 2020-2023. In 2023, the program received a NIH T32 Predoctoral Training Grant, allowing the program to continue to grow in size and scope. The newly funded Rural Environmental Health T32 Training program accepted its first trainee in Fall 2023.

Rural Environmental Health trainees are working to further build innovative research collaborations at the nexus of environment and health in rural areas. Learn more about current and past Rural Environmental Health trainees.


Kathleen Hohweiler

2023 Rural Environmental Health T32 Trainee


Kathleen joined the Interfaces of Global Change IGEP in spring of 2023, and after a competative application process was accepted as the first REH T32 Trainee starting in fall of 2023. Kathleen recieved her M.S. in Biological Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech and is currenlty a PhD student in the Biological Systems Engineering Department. In collaboration with the Virginia Household Water Quality Program, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the U.S. Geological Survey the goal of Kathleen's research project focuses on assessing and quantifying the occurrence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in private drinking water supplies (i.e. wells and springs) in Southwest Virginia.

Kathleen is looking forward to using her time in the REH T32 program to expand her work to include a health component that assess the impact of PFAS compounds on private well users in Virginia. PFAS compounds are of increasing concern to those in both the environmental and public health spheres as a result of their association with a variety of negative human-health consequences including bioaccumulation in tissue, human developmental, metabolic, and immune disorders as well as certain types of cancers. Drinking water, sourced from both private and public systems, is considered to be a major contributor to the human digestion of PFAS compounds. Overall, 22% of Virginia’s rural residents, nearly 1.6 million people, solely rely on private drinking water wells as their primary source of drinking water. Private drinking water systems do not fall under US EPA’s jurisdiction, meaning that a drinking water well’s construction, testing, and maintenance are the full responsibility of the homeowner.

Advised by Dr. Leigh-Anne Krometis

*Funded by FLSI.

REH - Shariful Islam

Dr. Shariful Islam

2022 Rural Environmental Health Fellow


Dr. Shariful Islam holds a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine degree and Master of Science in Epidemiology. He is interested to advance the theoretical frameworks and contemporary analytical tools available to study zoonotic diseases of wildlife origin. Through his PhD study, Shariful aims to identify wildlife hosts of zoonotic viruses, strengthen human and animal disease-surveillance system capacities, and establish collaborative efforts to reduce pathogen spillover from wildlife to humans. To assess spillover risk, he employs statistical and mathematical modeling methods to identify and rank the factors contributing to disease emergence.

Advised by Dr. Luis Escobar

REH - Amina Tithi

Amina Tithi

2022 Rural Environmental Health Fellow


Amina Tithi holds MS and BS degrees in pharmaceutical sciences, and brings experience from working in both the academic and industrial sectors to influence her doctoral pursuits. Raised in Bangladesh and a first-generation immigrant to the U.S., Amina strives to steward environmental and public welfare and to improve environmental conditions and quality of life for vulnerable and under-served communities across the globe. For her doctoral research, Amina will study the environmental fate and impact of emerging contaminants, including pharmaceutical and personal care products on aquatic environment and agro-ecosystems.

Advised by Dr. Kang Xia

*Funded by FLSI.

REH - Amanda Darling

Amanda Darling

2021 Rural Environmental Health Fellow


Amanda Darling’s research interests include drinking water quality and treatment methods with a focus on rural areas of Central Appalachia. For her PhD dissertation, she will first conduct a systemic review and meta-analysis on drinking water quality and associated health outcomes in the Appalachian Region to identify key exposures of concern. Next Amanda plans to initiate a field-based study, in collaboration with local stakeholders, to evaluate and better characterize drinking water contaminants and associated health outcomes in a low-income rural region of Southwest Virginia. With these research findings, she hopes to contribute to the efforts for safe freshwater and drinking water resources in rural communities, and provide data for policy-makers to better inform decision making on water and sanitation issues.

Advised by Dr. Alasdair Cohen

REH Fellow - Charles Sterling

Charles W. Sterling III

2021 Rural Environmental Health Fellow


Charles Sterling’s research aims to examine potential relationship between private well water quality and demographic factors such as race and poverty; specifically, whether minority and/or underserved individuals are more likely to rely on contaminated drinking water. The first part of his doctoral work includes a collaboration with the Virginia Household Water Quality Program, a Cooperative Extension program that provides low-cost household water quality analysis and system maintenance education, to provide point-of-use water quality testing to residents in several southwestern Virginia counties. Additionally, participants will be encouraged to complete a survey with questions focused on demographics, homeownership status and their perceptions of water quality. Working at the intersection of environmental engineering and environmental justice, Charles aims to identify and quantify potential links between social identities, local geology, and drinking water quality in rural Appalachia.

Advised by Dr. Leigh-Anne Krometis

*Funded by FLSI.



Hannah Patton



Hannah Patton’s research focuses on access to safe drinking water in rural Appalachia. She will examine how in-home water availability and perception shape drinking water source selection, patterns of drinking water contamination in homes served by municipal and private water systems, and the potential for commercially available point of use filters to improve water quality. In addition, Hannah is the lead graduate student on a VT “Rapid Response” grant that is delivering in-home water-based STEM education kits to rural communities whose educational options have been limited by the covid19 pandemic.

Advised by Drs. Leigh-Anne Krometis and Emily Sarver

REH Fellow - Suwei Wang

Suwei Wang

PHD Student & Interfaces of Global Change Alumni 2021


Suwei is characterizing individually experienced temperature of residents in a rural study site compared to an urban study site in Alabama, working with ENACT team members. She is comparing these measurements with estimates of temperature at the nearest weather station and neighborhood-level measurements. She is also examining how time spent outdoors affects physical activity. Ultimately, she would like to contribute to our understanding of microclimates within neighborhoods in an urban versus rural setting and how this affects temperatures experienced and health-related behaviors of residents.

Advised by Dr. Julia Gohlke