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 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years.

The 2022-23 application is available below.
Application deadline is March 1, 2022. 

REH Fellowship_2022 Request For Applications

Please direct any questions to Jess Zielske, Global Change Coordinator, at 


Amanda Darling

PhD Student, Civil and Environmental Engineering

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

Sterling, Charles_sq

Charles W. Sterling III

PhD Student, Biological Systems Engineering

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

PhD Student
Biological Systems Engineering

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,
Population Health Sciences

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