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MPH alumni share their contributions in helping with COVID-19 response

Virginia Tech Master of Public Health (MPH) alumni are helping with COVID-19 response in many different ways all across the country and beyond. We are proud to share their response efforts in their own words.

If you are a Virginia Tech MPH alum helping with COVID-19 response through your employment or outside of work, we would love to hear from you. This page will be updated as more alumni share their stories.

Kirsten (Smith) Beasley, MPH '16 is the Health Education Supervisor and Preparedness Coordinator for the Martin-Tyrrell-Washington District Health Department in North Carolina: "Daily SitReps disseminated to staff, reporters, epi team and incident command; collaboration with emergency management services; FIT test staff; develop policies and procedures for staff related to safety; order PPE and keep record of inventory; develop social media graphics related to COVID case numbers, safety guidelines and important community information."

Ashley Briggs, MPH '16 is a Project Associate at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and RHCC Duty Officer for the Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance. Ashley has assisted with PPE requests made to the RHCC Activation Line. Ashley has also assisted the New River Health District by participating in the Near Southwest Medical Reserve Corps volunteer opportunities including, answering phones at the COVID-19 call center, repairing elastic on N95 masks, and contact tracing for the district health departments remotely.

Ann Carpenter, DVM/MPH '19 is a Veterinary Epidemiologist for the CDC. Activities that Ann has participated in related to COVID-19 response include, "Animal testing coordination, drafting guidance and making recommendations to keep people and animals safe and healthy."

Tessa Englund, PhD/MPH '17 is a Research Associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: "I am working with the team at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center to understand how patients with lupus have been impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to pilot an online group therapy program to help manage stress and symptoms during this time. We are developing a survey to assess whether patients' access to hydroxychloroquine (a staple in lupus treatment) has been impacted due to medication shortages resulting from unfounded claims that it can be used to treat or prevent COVID-19. The survey will also assess news media consumption habits, depression, anxiety, and other QoL outcomes to understand how patients are doing during the pandemic and if the online group therapy program is associated with improvements in health and well-being."

Emily Eskew, MPH '14 is the Director of Sales, Southeast, Mid-Market for Vitality: "My company asked me to do virtual workout videos, provide tips, and tools to healthy physical activity while at home. I have featured my YouTube channel and have done special spotlights on Vitality's Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media outlets --reaching all of our US members!" When asked about responding to COVID-19 outside of work Emily mentioned "I used to teach group exercise at the YMCA of Great Charlotte. I have started to host safe outdoor boot-camps for 10 people or less at various parking lots, parks, and fields. We use all recommended guidelines by the CDC, but still feel connected and able to keep fitness an important piece of the well-being journey. We developed a social group for support, notices, and updates for these outreaches. I teach this group of friends/members twice a week since March 18th."

Thumbnail image from a workout from Emily Eskew's MPH '14 YouTube channel
A workout from Emily Eskew's, MPH '14 YouTube channel
Photo from an outdoor boot-camp workout hosted by Emily Eskew, MPH' 14
An outdoor boot-camp workout hosted by Emily Eskew, MPH' 14

Helen Ferguson, MPH '12 is the Chief Programs Officer for the Rescue Mission Ministries, Inc in Roanoke, Virginia: "I am currently responsible for the COVID-19 response for our entire organization (shelter, industry side, and clinic). I have been working with city officials, the local health department, hospitals, and other non-profit organizations to ensure that the city's homeless population has access to the services it needs during this time in a safe way. This includes creating new policies and updating policies. I have also worked with state organizations to help understand the climate of our area to help lobby for appropriate funding and resources." Helen's COVID-19 response activities outside of work include: "I have been a resource for my church educating our leaders and congregation since day 1. I field phone calls from the church leaders and lay members for decisions about next steps for our church and for the congregation safety."

Jose Jimenez, PhD/MPH '13 is an Assistant Professor/Major, Preventive Medicine Officer for the US Military Academy, US Southern Command: "At West Point, we have developed predictive models to determine when to bring cadets/faculty back to the academy. Our models were based on Systems Dynamics and advanced SEIR calculations. I have supported the DoD modeling and simulation task force for COVID-19, since it started in late May 2020 Currently, as an Army officer, I am supporting the US Southern Command on developing dashboards and models that look at the area of responsibility that includes South America, Central America, and the Caribbean."

Gloria Kang, PhD/MPH '15 is a Prevention Effectiveness Fellow for the CDC. Gloria has been deployed to help with COVID-19 response since May 2020, and is currently the Team Lead for the Hotspots and Outbreaks Team within the health department section of the response.

Emily Meeks, MPH '19 is the Program Manager for the JCK Foundation: "I have developed virtual workshops that focus on the mental health impact of COVID-19 as well as workshops that promote healthy stress management techniques. As a facilitator of these programs, I have led discussions regarding COVID-19 with middle and high school students. We are also utilizing social media and our website to showcase the stories of students, mental health professionals, and mental health advocates across the country. I have designed interview questions for guest speakers that shared mental health resources and advice for students. I have also assembled a COVID-19 resource sheet and helped design social media content that give accurate COVID-19 information, support overall student mental wellness, and allow students to find community through sharing experiences and resources."

Kelsey O'Hara-Marasigan, MPH '14 is the Assistant Director for Education & Prevention for Virginia Tech Hokie Wellness: "I oversee our marketing/communications for Hokie Wellness and the substance misuse prevention programming. My first activity was converting all of our programs to an online platform and creating a social media campaign called "Hokie Wellness at Home". I've also been conducting trainings for our IMPACT peer educators via Zoom about substance misuse. We also held a virtual "senior send-off" for them with a video of our members saying what they appreciate about each peer." Outside of work Kelsey has signed up to be in the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps to respond to volunteer needs related to COVID-19 in the community.

Valerie Pegues, MPH '15 in her free time has transported masks made by her community stitch therapy group to hospitals, nursing homes and other first responder groups. Valerie has also volunteered for a COVID-19 call center and other tasks as requested by the Medical Reserve Corps.

Natalie Popsuy, MPH '17 is an Environmental Health Specialist Senior for the Prince William Health District in Virginia: "I have been assigned to one of the teams that delivers COVID-19 test kits to high risk facilities such as nursing homes, detention centers, etc. In addition, I have also picked up the completed COVID-19 samples from the same facilities so that they may be sent off for lab testing."

Steven Rekant, DVM/MPH '13 is an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the USDA/CDC/Oregon Health Authority (OHA): "I am on OHA's epi and data team, working on things ranging from writing guidance documents to advising local public health partners to testing contact tracking software."

Kayla Septer, MPH '19 is a Research Technologist II at Pennsylvania State University: "I work in a virology lab in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at Penn State that has joined the effort in learning more about SARS-CoV-2. We are evaluating animal models of transmission and vaccine-mediated protection. Results could provide key knowledge in the development of a vaccine."

Julia Sherry, MS/MPH '17 is a Program Evaluation Specialist for Water Mission: "The global COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve and affect millions of the most under-resourced and vulnerable people in the world: refugees in overcrowded camps, rural residents in developing nations, and survivors of natural disasters. In much of the developing world, there is a lack of reliable, accurate health information on how to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, doctors and nurses do not have adequate, accessible, safe water for treating patients. With decades of experience responding to emergencies and global crises, Water Mission has a network of international staff (in 9 countries), on-the-ground partners, and more than 6,000 trained water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) promoters. Water Mission is coming alongside local leaders, healthcare workers, and community members in building and protecting the health and safety of millions of people to: 1. Distribute health and hygiene education materials in local languages, along with hygiene kits. 2. Ensure public health and medical staff have the safe water they need to care for their patients. 3. Install handwashing facilities at high-traffic settings, such as clinics and hospitals, schools, markets, and water access points."

Water Mission handwashing partner photo
Water Mission handwashing partner photo submitted by Julia Sherry, MS/MPH '17

Katrina Stanziano, MPH '15 is the Regional Health and Medical Coordinator at the Worcester Division of Public Health (WDPH) in Massachusetts: "I work on the Emergency Preparedness team at WDPH. We serve as the regional ESF-8 role, which means we help with the coordination of medical requests around PPE. We work with 74 communities and all healthcare entities in those communities. We also provide situational awareness to our stakeholders around COVID-19. We are also working with the city to plan for dispensing locations if we do receive a vaccine. We also hold weekly calls with our ten acute care hospitals to see how they are doing."

Wendy Welch, MPH '14 is the Executive Director of the Graduate Medical Education Consortium (GMEC): "Two books have been contracted - one on Appalachian healthcare providers writing about their experiences with COVID patients and policies. This is with Ohio University Press, and a compilation volume I'm editing as GMEC director. It will be out this fall and promote public education as well as access to behind the scenes information that could help allay conspiracy theory fears. Which brings us to the second project. The second is a conspiracy theory book about the vaccination and lockdown protests as public health concerns, contracted with McFarland Press and also due out this fall. The conspiracy theories have created public health barriers to best practice."

Isabel (Jimenez-Bush) Wright, MPH '16 is a Program Manager at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute: "We are analyzing the antibody repertoires of patients recovering from COVID-19." Outside of work Isabel is a member of the American Red Cross Board of Directors for the Eastern/Central North Carolina chapter, "I've helped spread the word about the urgency for blood donations due to shortages related to COVID-19 shut-downs and blood drive cancelations. I'm also on the diversity committee, which aims to diversify blood donations and help reach out to minority populations to ensure they are represented and helped, especially given the disproportionate health effects on minorities during this pandemic.

"As a member of my parish, I helped compile and publish informational PowerPoints and standard operating procedures regarding COVID-19 to train food pantry volunteers prior to re-opening to the public in early April (the local pantries had shut down early in the pandemic to re-assess their operations and safety procedures). Also as a member of my parish, I am part of the COVID-19 task force to help inform the church leadership about re-opening for worship services. We don't expect to open again for a while, but we are beginning to look ahead to what it will look like (and what things will need to be considered) once things begin to re-open and we have permission to resume mass."