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Rutgers EPH Program Boosts a Soldier’s Military Career

Image of a Military person on a base

In her second deployment to Iraq in 2011, Lyndhurst native Aysu Cesmebasi ran a dining hall that fed 12,000 Army and Air Force personnel twice a day, as the U.S. prepared to shut Joint Base Balad, its largest in that war-torn country.

The local contractor handling meals at the base had been let go, so Cesmebasi, a food advisor, oversaw a staff of 75 soldiers and airmen, ensuring they adhered to sanitary regulations.

“My biggest concern was safety,” recalled Cesmebasi, a 2008 graduate of the Environment and Public Health (EPH) course run by Rutgers' Office of Continuing Professional Education (OCPE). “I could not have a food-borne illness outbreak since it could impair our mission at a critical time.”

Since returning home in December, the licensed health inspector and Army command food advisor finds herself in demand. At 29, Cesmebasi has received job offers from the civilian and military worlds – including another Army support mission in the Middle East.

Growing up, Cesmebasi considered herself “too girly” for the military, but after running into financial problems during her freshman year away at college, she enlisted with the New Jersey Army National Guard. It was August 2001.

Using her tuition benefit, Cesmebasi enrolled at Rutgers University two years later to become a cancer researcher. But an introductory course in public health changed her plans. After interviewing a municipal health officer and attending a board of health meeting as part of the class, she realized this could be her calling.

During her junior year, Cesmebasi was called up to duty and served 16 months in Iraq. “I was nervous,” she said. “The worst part is the anticipation of what to expect when you get over there.”

Cesmebasi went into villages with her platoon and, with the help of an interpreter, spoke to women and children about what assistance the Army could provide them.

She graduated from Rutgers with a bachelor’s degree in biology in May 2008 and used the Montgomery GI bill to put herself through the EPH program. The course encompasses seven weeks of classroom instruction taught by 30-plus experts practicing in their field, and a five-week internship that gives students hands-on experience working for a public health department. Students are prepared to take the state’s licensing exam to become Registered Environmental Health Specialists.

The program is just one option to help U.S. veterans take the next step of their career; all 300 plus courses offered by Rutgers OCPE are approved for training tuition reimbursement through the GI Bill.

“Whether a student is transitioning to civilian life or planning to extend their military career in a new direction, we are proud to provide U.S. veterans with the education they need to advance themselves professionally,” said Edward V. Lipman, Jr., OCPE Director.

The Mid-Bergen Regional Health Commission offered Cesmebasi a job before she had the results of her licensing exam; a year later, she left to take a position with the Bloomfield Health Department. In her military life, she became a warrant officer specializing in food management. Cesmebasi advises the command on what meals are best suited under given circumstances and trains food handlers about safety and sanitation issues.

For 2012, the classroom portion of the Environment and Public Health Program will run from June 4 to July 20. For information, visit the program website.

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