Virginia Tech® home

Rural Environmental Health Fellowships

Insert your title here


The Rural Environmental Health Fellowship was a short-term pilot program that ran from 2020-2023. We are not accepting applications for Rural Environmental Health Fellowships for the 2023-2024 academic year. 

Roughly one-fifth of the US population is considered “rural”; however, these rural landscapes comprise 90% of the nation’s land area, and provide the overwhelming majority of the country’s food, energy, water and other natural resources. Simultaneously, rural residents face many health disparities compared to their urban counterparts. Virginia Tech is well positioned to provide a rich training environment for examining environmental health in rural landscapes, with top programs in agriculture, natural resources and environment, and engineering, and growing programs in public health and translational biology and medicine.

Rural Environmental Health Fellows work at the nexus of multiple labs and with external partners with a rural focus, further solidifying current collaborations between environment and health focused faculty and external partners and becoming catalysts encouraging new collaborations. With support from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, two Rural Environmental Health Fellows per year have received Graduate Research Assistantship awards and research support in the academic years between 2020 and 2023.

Incoming (first-year PhD student to begin in the Fall 2021 term) or current PhD students are eligible to apply.

For incoming (i.e. new) graduate students, eligibility is contingent on:

a) identifying a potential faculty mentor/s, preferably GCC affiliated faculty member/s, to supervise and financially support their graduate studies

b) application for admission to the Virginia Tech Graduate School and to their potential mentor’s home department or program

c) intention to enroll in the Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGC IGEP) upon arrival at Virginia Tech.

Current graduate students are eligible to apply if

a) they are in good academic standing with their mentor(s), home department or graduate program and the Virginia Tech Graduate School

b) intend to enroll (or are enrolled) in the Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program.

Deadline for applications is 5 pm EST on March 1st, 2022. Incomplete, late, or incorrectly formatted applications will not be considered.

Notification of awards will be made by the end of March.

All applications must include (in this order):


1. The one-page Cover Sheet (see below)

2. The applicant’s CV, including cumulative graduate GPA (currently enrolled students) or undergraduate/masters-level GPA (new PhD applicants)

3. An application letter, not to exceed 2 pages (11 point font), that is divided into 3 sections that addresses these topics:

a. Research Statement: Description of your research plan, specifically how it relates to rural landscapes and populations and is relevant to (or informs) both environmental and health-related sciences. Describe how your research is related to global change.

b. Interdisciplinary and Policy Relevance Statement: Describe how your research is interdisciplinary and describe how your training and research is related to the science-policy interface.

c. Plans for Fellowship Use: How will you use the one-year fellowship to advance your professional development to become a leader in rural environmental health?

4. A letter of support from the applicant’s graduate mentor, not to exceed 1 page, that explains:

a. For current PhD students: the applicant’s progress towards her/his Ph.D. and any notable accomplishments OR for new PhD applicants: the applicant’s potential for success at Virginia Tech

b. The applicant’s contributions to outreach or other service-related activities

c. How the applicant’s training will benefit from the one-year fellowship

d. Post fellowship funding plans (i.e. graduate research or teaching assistantship; project funding; etc).

  • Applicant’s professional credentials and alignment with purpose of fellowship
  • Pertinence of student’s proposed research to global change issues
  • The interdisciplinary nature of the student’s research interests and its relevance to society.
  • Evidence that the IGC IGEP will help the student reach their professional goals.

FELLOWSHIP RECIPIENTS  |  Global Change Center

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

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

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

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



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

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