Students Urged to Consider Careers in Public Health

The following article appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on October 29, 2010.

By Tucker McQueen
For the AJC 10-29-10

South Cobb High School students heard a sales pitch Thursday for careers in public health from a graduate whose interest in the field started at age 12 when she picked up a library book on infectious diseases.

“I want students to understand that research is a good career to pursue,” Michelle Stokes Krakowiak said. “It’s not just about creepy old guys in lab coats.”

Krakowiak gave credit to South Cobb, a magnet school in medical science, for sparking the interest she has in medical research. She graduated from the school in 2006.

Krakowiak and Emory University student Scott Kobner spoke at South Cobb and at Dunwoody High School to drum up interest in the field of epidemiology. Both plan careers in public health.

Krakowiak and Kobner both received Young Epidemiology Scholars grants in high school for research projects they did on antibiotics. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funds the scholarship program that is administered by the College Board. The two organizations organized Thursday’s talks.

The Georgia Department of Education adopted a standards-based curriculum in epidemiology in July, approving the course for students to take to fulfill state science requirements. The department’s science program manager, Juan Carlos Aquilar, said the state is one of the first in the country to establish this curriculum.

Krakowiak, who is interested in microbiology, immunology and cancer research, graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur and is a first-year graduate student in biological sciences at Vanderbilt University.

“I have always been kind of nerdy and will probably do lab work someday,” Krakowiak said. “That’s what’s good about the public health field. It has so much to offer and there are so many directions to go in for careers.”

Kobner, a competition winner from New Jersey, is a sophomore studying biology at Emory.

“Public health is such a broad field,” Kobner said. “You have the chance to make a change in your community and across the globe.”

Erica Ijames, head of the magnet program at South Cobb, said the budget crunch has limited adding epidemiology courses to the curriculum, but the school does incorporate the field in other science classes.

“We are one of two schools in the state with programs on medical science,” Ijames said. “Our schedule is tightly packed, but our studies create an interest for learning that is lifelong.”

Aquilar said the state DOE began working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention two years ago to establish high school studies in public health. The CDC offers a two-week science workshop during the summer for Georgia teachers.

“When you think of science in school, it’s generally biology, chemistry and physics,” Aquilar said. “This new field opens the doors to another career path for students.”