On the Front Lines of the CDC
by Susan Shelly
Stephanie Michel ’17 has been employed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for three years, pursuing a career in public health that began taking shape when she was a student at Albright College and has been further shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Career aptitude testing when she was a sophomore pointed Michel, a psychology major, in the direction of public health. At the time, however, Albright had not yet launched its public health program.
When public health classes became available in her senior year, Michel took all she was able to enroll in while finishing her requirements to graduate with a degree in psychology.
“I had saved most of my electives for senior year, so I was able to fill them with public health classes,” Michel explained. “The combination of my degree and those classes has worked out well for me.”
After graduating, Michel participated in the CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars (CUPS) program in collaboration with Columbia University Medical Center and served as a research assistant at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. In addition, she worked for a year as an office administrator with Habitat for Humanity of Berks County, an experience she found inspiring.
“It was really eye opening to see the benefits of upward mobility in regard to public health while working at Habitat,” said Michel, who grew up in the Reading area and graduated from Governor Mifflin Senior High School.
In 2018 she found employment with the CDC, serving in the Public Health Associate Program (PHAP). Michel was assigned to support the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, working as a health educator with populations at high risk for tuberculosis. While working in that role, COVID-19 hit New York City hard, with approximately 203,000 confirmed cases reported in the city during the first three months of the pandemic.
All of a sudden, Michel recalled, everything was different.
“I was right there in the epicenter when COVID hit,” Michel recalled. “I watched as this grand, energetic city went quiet.”
The CDC soon deployed Michel to work as part of its COVID-19 response team, and in January 2020 she was sent to John F. Kennedy International Airport to support the CDC’s New York quarantine station.
As a quarantine public health officer, Michel responds to reports of illness on airplanes or ships, reviews medical records of migrants who will reside in the U.S., collaborates on binational border projects, conducts public health research and performs other jobs. She said she feels well suited to the position.
“I feel like all my public health experiences have prepared me for this work, contributing to protecting the nation’s public health,” Michel said. “When I was assigned here, I felt thoroughly prepared for it.”
Michel credits Albright faculty and staff members with encouraging her and supporting the work she did as an undergraduate. She worked closely with Bridget A. Hearon, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology who participated with Michel on her Albright Collaborative Research Experience (ACRE), for which she studied the benefits of love, kindness and meditation for those affected by body image issues.
She also credits staff in the Experiential Learning and Career Development Center for providing guidance regarding internships, networking opportunities, interview tips and more.
“I was a commuter student, but I practically lived on campus,” Michel said. “When I was at Albright, I used any and all resources available, and I can’t say enough about all the people who were willing to help me. I’d encourage any student to do the same.”