Aug, 3, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 31

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STEER earns international Spirit of the Land Award

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The South Texas Environmental Education and Research Center (STEER) was awarded the 2001 Spirit of the Land Award by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) for the 2002 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Each year between the Winter Games of 1998 and the commencement of the 2002 Olympic Games, the SLOC recognizes individuals and organizations for their outstanding efforts to preserve the environment. This year the STEER Center won the international award for environmental education and was one of seven organizations from across the world honored for its efforts to inform the public about environmental issues.

STEER has engaged in several grant projects designed to engage the local community in environmental health issues. One such program recognized by the SLOC was the "Agua Para Beber" (Water to Drink) program, a one-year program that took place from September 1997 to December 1998 and was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The program was a partnership between the STEER Center and Laredo and Nuevo Laredo agencies including Mercy Hospital, the health departments of both cities and the Office of Border Health. Students taking the STEER rotation selective were actively involved at various stages of the project. Through Agua Para Beber, 28 promotores (lay public health educators) were trained on water purification and hygiene. During a series of visits to the participating families, these lay health educators in turn educated 500 families on both sides of the border. These families resided in colonias, unincorporated subdivisions without basic services such as water and sewer. As a result, the families experienced a sevenfold reduction in the prevalence of water-borne diarrheal diseases.

Joan Engelhardt accepted the award on behalf of STEER and its director, Dr. Claudia S. Miller, at the Spirit of the Land Awards ceremony held in Salt Lake City, Utah, in April.

Roger Perales and Joan Engelhardt have been the environmental health coordinators for the STEER program in Laredo since its inception in 1996.

"We are just thrilled to have received this recognition," Engelhardt said. "The key factor in our success truly has been the community itself, which has opened its doors to us and has supported our vision. People in Laredo, Nuevo Laredo and other parts of Mexico have welcomed students into their facilities and homes, and offered invaluable insight for our edification as health professionals, for the purpose of making us more efficacious and more environmentally and culturally aware, and to aid in our development as caring practitioners," she said.

STEER was established in Laredo as a part of the Health Science Center's department of family and community medicine to provide medical, nursing and public health students and residents with a four-week elective on border health. Students from universities across the country can enroll in the course.

The goal of this course on environmental medicine is to teach tomorrow's health practitioners how to unite medicine with public health. Faculty from the UTHSC and the University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health in San Antonio, and health professionals, engineers and community leaders from Laredo, team to teach students about border health issues.

STEER trains eight students per month. Since 1996, 150 students have completed the STEER course.


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