The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health
Service (USPHS) works on the front lines. Students in health-related
undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs can apply for Corps
internships through its Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and
Extern Program (COSTEP). COSTEP interns learn about the Corps as they
train alongside active-duty officers during school breaks. In addition
to being paid, participants receive health benefits and housing and
travel allowances. Upon completing the program, students become inactive
Public Health Service officers and have the option to activate upon
graduation. There is no obligation to join the USPHS Commissioned Corps.
COSTEP invites undergraduate students to apply if they meet
eligibility criteria, including two years of study in environmental
health, engineering, nursing, pharmacy, physician assistant, dental
hygiene, dietetics, medical laboratory technology, medical record
administration, or occupational, physical, or respiratory therapy.
Graduate and doctoral students are required to have one year of study in
the same fields. Each COSTEP program lasts between 30 and 120 days.
▸ LEARN MORE
The Indian Health Service (IHS) employs approximately 20 to 30 COSTEP interns every year in its Office of Environmental Health and Engineering. The application cycle usually begins in September and ends in December. ▸ Visit the Corps online to learn more about COSTEPS internships at usphs.gov.
Ask a Lieutenant in the Corps
Kayla DeVault, Shawnee/Anishinaabe, is a
uniformed service member in USPHS and works for IHS. She was named an
AISES Sequoyah Fellow in 2015 and is a member of the Winds of Change Editorial
Advisory Council. DeVault holds undergraduate degrees in French and
civil engineering from Case Western University and a master’s degree in
American Indian studies from Arizona State University.
Tell us about your background and your educational and career path.
My family moved around when I was growing up; I spent a lot of time in
the Great Lakes region. After graduating from high school and then
earning my degrees from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, I
stayed in the area and took a job with the private sector. When I
decided that wasn’t for me, I moved to Navajo Nation to work in tribal
government. I took coursework on the side so I could learn to speak
Navajo in my role and also started pursuing my first master’s degree. In
addition to my service in the Corps, I am now working on my master of
public health degree at George Washington University.
What do you do in your service for the Corps?
I was commissioned about a year ago, and I’m stationed with IHS in
Montana and Wyoming. My primary job function is in Sanitation
Facilities, which draws on my background in civil engineering. For the
past year, I have primarily been focused on COVID-19 response. For
facilities like hospitals, a lot of their needs have required special
attention in terms of requirements such as social distancing and safe
ingress and egress.
Why did you decide to apply to the USPHS?
When I worked in the private sector, I became frustrated because I
often didn’t see the kinds of results I thought people needed. I wanted
to work where my efforts could make a positive impact. When I was
writing my thesis, I learned that the U.S. Public Health Service has
Commissioned Corps avenues. My thesis was about sustainable energy in
Indian housing and its public health implications, and I realized I
could pursue public health in the Corps. So I applied for the Corps in
the engineering category in 2018, was accepted in 2019, and completed my
Officer Basic Course in early 2020. We were the last in-person course
before the pandemic hit. I started working for IHS right after that.
“My thesis was about sustainable energy in Indian housing and its public health implications, and I realized I could pursue public health in the Corps.”
What would you like to highlight about serving in the Corps with IHS?
I think a lot of people either don’t know about the Corps or have
misperceptions. While the Corps is one of the country’s eight uniformed
services, we are not trained as combatants. Our role is to protect
public health. We can be activated in a time of crisis, which is what
happened in World War I and II, but we’re not enlisted soldiers. Also,
people often don’t realize there are 11 different IHS job categories,
all STEM-related. In addition to environmental health and engineering,
there are opportunities for dieticians, rehabilitation therapists,
science researchers, veterinarians, and various other medical
What else would you like to say about opportunities with USPHS?
I suggested that Winds of Change feature the Corps because I
wish I had known about it and opportunities like COSTEP sooner. If
readers are interested in a career that’s rewarding, helps people, and
offers opportunities for advancement, I hope they’ll consider it. A
COSTEP internship would be a great way to start. I want people to know
that service with the Corps is an option for them.
The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.,
partners with the All Nations Alliance for Minority Participation
(ANAMP) to offer the AMP Award to selected students pursuing a STEM
discipline. The AMP Scholar Program provides financial stipends,
conference travel assistance, and an array of internship and research
opportunities. This NSF-funded initiative is focused on increasing the
number of American Indians and other underrepresented minorities earning
bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.
Evergreen is part of a geographically diverse network of 34 colleges
and universities. It offers more than 60 fields of study and 11 curated
Paths of Study from STEM to Native American and Indigenous programs and
environmental justice. Paths of Study students also have the opportunity
to combine their studies with an internship at a local nonprofit,
business, or government agency.
To be eligible for an AMP Award, students must be enrolled full time in an approved STEM discipline at a partner school such as Evergreen, have at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA, be seeking or involved in research with a mentor, and submit a degree plan. ▸ For more information, contact Evergreen Native Student Specialist Amber De Villers: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask an Evergreen AMP Scholar
Willow Coyote-Maestas has an MS in
bioinformatics and computational biology and a PhD in biochemistry,
molecular biology, and biophysics, both from the University of
Minnesota. In 2013, he was selected for the AMP Award at the Evergreen
State College, where he graduated with a BS in chemistry. He is now a
Quantitative Biosciences Institute Fellow at the University of
California, San Francisco. He was recently awarded a prestigious Howard
Hughes Medical Institute Hanna H. Gray Fellowship.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I was raised by my mother, and we mostly moved back and forth between
northern California and Hawaii. I went to Sir Francis Drake High School
in San Anselmo, Calif. — the schools before that were too numerous to
list. For the most part, they were poorly funded and not well organized.
In high school, my science teachers actively discouraged me from
pursuing science. At Evergreen State College I had supportive professors
who saw me as a potential scientist and told me I could succeed in
What would you like to share about your tribal affiliation?
I am mixed race and a Jicarilla Apache descendent. My ancestors left
their Native communities several generations ago and intermixed. One of
my siblings and my stepmom help care for buffalo on the Pine Ridge
Reservation, and I have spent some time there. In addition, my family is
quite involved in activism and ceremony in urban Native communities in
the Denver area. I was raised mostly apart from my Native families, but
as an adult I work hard to build and maintain relationships with my
What drew you to science?
When I was a child, my grandmother would tell me stories of how
coyotes made humans mortal or created the stars through mischief. These
stories sparked my interest in the natural world. Science gives me the
same sense of wonder that stories did as a child. I think people raised
in storytelling cultures can be scientific storytellers for our
“The AMP program was instrumental in helping me find my path in science.”
How did you benefit from being an AMP Scholar?
The AMP program was instrumental in helping me find my path in
science. It provided funds to help me afford my education, which was
very important. I also received financial support to go to the 2014
Ocean Sciences Meeting, which played a crucial role in solidifying my
career choice. This was my first research conference, and it got me
involved in active research. I found it inspiring to be part of
developing a scientific story. It was science in action!
What are you doing now, and what would you like to do next?
My long-term goal is to be a professor at a major research
institution. I am currently studying a class of sensory molecules that
underlie the feeling of pain, heat, and taste of spicy food. I am
exploring how these receptors allow us to differentiate sensations. This
information would be fundamental to understanding how we sense the
world around us and could be useful for developing non-opioid pain
treatments with fewer side effects and lower potential for the abuse
that has plagued our communities.