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Going Antiviral

devy emperador

“The coolest thing I’ve done is go whitewater rafting on the Nile in Uganda,” says Devy Emperador ’08, seen here off the water for the day. “I was in the water with crocodiles!”

Devy Emperador ’08 was a biochemistry & molecular biology major while at Dickinson, and her career path has moved along a focused trajectory ever since. The former Global Health Corps Fellow with the Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala, Uganda, and Emerging Infectious Diseases Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be transitioning next month to the University of California at San Francisco, where she’ll continue pursuing global health research, specifically in HIV/AIDS. Read on to see how Dickinson set her on her way, how she stays involved with the college and why she likes looking to the future instead of to the past.

Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?

The liberal-arts education that I received from Dickinson was essential in training me for working in global public health. There’s a lot of multidisciplinary collaboration in public health that brings people of different skillsets and backgrounds together to solve global challenges. Having both the breadth and depth of courses I took at Dickinson was helpful in shaping my mindset of being excited to work across many different fields while maintaining expertise in the sciences and the lab. Plus, Dickinson’s motto of “engaging the world” continues to resonate with me; maybe that’s why I’m working in the field today.

What was your favorite organization at Dickinson?

I had a wonderful time being a member and leader of (then) Club Asia. It was great to connect with other students of Asian decent at Dickinson as well as to bring others to our small but growing Asian/Asian-American community.

What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?

I remember spending a lot of time in the Althouse computer lab, back when Althouse was the chemistry building, either doing research or hanging out with the other biochem students. I also have fond memories of the 2004-05 Wilson Hall kids, as we “moved up” to nicer dorms throughout our four years at Dickinson.

How do you stay involved with/support Dickinson?

Recently, I went back to Dickinson to talk about my experiences in global public health to the Pre-Health Society. I knew little about working in public health while I was at Dickinson, and it’s exciting to advocate for a field that can resonate with Dickinson’s interdisciplinary approach to learning. Along with that, I’m an alumni mentor, and I’m happy to talk to students and alumni alike about working in public health.

How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?

I got interested in infectious diseases and public health after taking [Associate] Professor [of Biology David] Kushner’s course Infection vs. Immunity my freshman year. So throughout my academic and professional career, I’ve tried to learn as much as I could about the topic, understanding both the biology as well as the epidemiology and control of diseases like HIV/AIDS, rotavirus and Ebola. I got into global health after graduate school, and it’s been a privilege to work in global health, both doing research in the laboratory and moving programs forward.

What does your current work entail?

As a laboratorian and project coordinator [with the CDC], I’ve been really fortunate to do two things I enjoy: research and public health practice. I work on rotavirus, which is a diarrheal disease that affects children younger than five all over the world, with the highest burden of disease in low-income, resource-limited settings (while the current live oral rotavirus vaccines have significantly decreased the occurance of diarrhea in children worldwide, the efficacy of the vaccines is lower in areas like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia). Half of my time is spent in the laboratory doing research, where I analyze samples, looking at immune responses to rotavirus vaccines in children. The other half of my time is spent providing programmatic support for the development of a new inactivated rotavirus vaccine.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

Working with different partners and organizations. Sometimes what you want is different from what your partners, be they donors or collaborators, are looking for. So being diplomatic and learning to compromise are essential to moving things forward. It also stinks when your experiments don’t work.

What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?

Workwise, the coolest thing I’ve done was volunteering for the Ebola response in Sierra Leone in 2015. I got to work with amazing people from CDC, WHO [World Health Organization] and other organizations. I also learned a lot from my Sierra Leonean colleagues about their culture, their personal responses to the epidemic and their work together to get to zero.

If you could have dinner with anyone famous, living or dead, who would it be?

Bill Gates, definitely. The investments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have really strengthened the global public health community, and I’d love to pick his brain on his motivations and how he chooses his partners.

You just built a time machine: Where and when do you go?

Probably go forward in time, where there are flying cars and buildings high in the sky, like on The Jetsons! I like looking forward a lot better than looking back.

You’re going to live on an island by yourself for a year: What books, albums and movies do you take with you?

I’d try my favorite “survivor” books: World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. For music, all of Nujabes’ albums and mixtapes. And instead of movies, I’d bring a hard drive (and a laptop to watch them on) of TV shows like Firefly, The Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers, just to name a few.

If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?

I’m pretty happy with life right now and excited to do more in the future!

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Published February 9, 2016