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SPEA student customizes his education

Dima Sergiyenko gains real-world experience while lending his expertise to a local hospital

Friday Mar 13, 2015

As a December 2014 graduate of Indiana University Northwest, Dima Sergiyenko is immersed in his post-collegiate job search. The 23-year-old native of Ukraine and Munster High School alumnus earned a bachelor’s degree in public affairs with a specialization in environmental policy.

When he meets with potential employers, he already has some real experience to tout. When interviewers ask what kind of experience he has with environmental planning, he’ll simply pull out the case study he created about environmental sustainability at St. Catherine’s Hospital in East Chicago.

Just how does a college student land an opportunity like that?

As Sergiyenko can attest, it’s a valuable perk of getting your education at a regional institution where professors establish close relationships with the local community and are willing to move mountains to help students make the connections they need and graduate with the skills and the experiences they desire.

Sergiyenko wanted an environmental specialty attached to his education so that he could pursue a career in environmental lobbying or research. He is passionate about topics such as energy efficiency, sustainability and working towards instituting Earth-friendly policies. Disappointed that a high-level environmental planning course wasn’t going to be offered in his final semester, Sergiyenko approached Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy Kalim Shah for advice about getting the training he felt he needed and still graduate when he’d planned. Shah, an expert on industrial environmental management systems already had something in mind and was happy to include Sergiyenko who had excelled in his past courses.

The student-mentor pair embarked upon a project in partnership with Community Healthcare System, which operates St. Catherine’s Hospital as well as two other hospitals. Shah knew that a hospital would be an ideal place to study environmental planning because of its unique environmental challenges.

“This is something I wanted to do and I was really waiting for the right student to do this with,” Shah said.

“In any operation, you want to minimize the negative environmental impacts, not just to be in legal compliance but because it makes good business sense and enhances the hospital’s reputation as a good community citizen,” Shah explained. “A hospital is sort of a special case in the sense that you may have certain environmental concerns that require more focus, like for instance, hospitals deal with storage and disposal of medicines, chemicals, hazardous wastes, toxic materials and blood and body parts. And then you also have the microbial aspects. You have to have different types of air filtration systems and engineering in place to reduce escape of airborne contaminants.”

Shah put Sergiyenko in touch with administrators from St. Catherine’s Hospital and he began interviewing staff there to learn about their environmental policies, processes and sustainability efforts. He researched best practices for the industry and studied the regulations hospitals must abide by.

His work ultimately yielded some recommendations he hopes administrators will consider to improve on its operations. One recommendation for example, is to consult the “Green Guide for Healthcare,” established by a group of organizations in 2002, which continually offers new tactics to stay on top of the latest sustainability practices in the ever-changing healthcare landscape.

Sergiyenko hopes to present the case study to hospital officials, and Shah is confident that the high quality work and useful new insights and recommendations will soon be a hit on the academic and professional conference circuit.

For Sergiyenko, the project was a lesson that could never have been learned from a textbook or class lecture.

“Organizationally and operationally, sometimes there is one thing you read in a textbook but having the opportunity to apply and try things out in the real world provided me with insights that other job hunting graduates will not have…its my competitive edge,” he said.

Sergiyenko admitted that he is still exploring his ideal career path, “but this project actually helped me to organize my thoughts in a better way,” he said. “Now I have an applied research product to present. Say for instance, if I have a promising interview, I could talk about this. “There are a lot of careers in my field that incorporate the methods and principles I used,” he said. “If I go into this field, I will know how to perform this work.”

Shah said that Sergiyenko stands out as an example of a student who knew what he wanted out of his education and actively sought out opportunities to customize it. A real advantage of IU Northwest, he said, is the presence of top class research experts in many fields who are easily accessible and care enough to take students under-wing for a customized learning experience.

Sergiyenko added that this opportunity is an example of the benefits of a regional university as opposed to a large residential one.

“I think it’s better to get an education in a localized institution,” Sergiyenko explained. “Here, you have a unique opportunity to talk directly with professors who can help in many ways. They are happy to share with you some of their experiences and some of their findings, what kind of path they’ve taken and what you might do in the future to help your own career."

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