‘Grateful to serve my country’: Alumni make public health impact amid pandemic

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By Cristine Hall

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed longstanding inequities in the nation’s public health system.

But it also has spotlighted the importance of public health programs, which have seen a surge in enrollment. Applications to master’s in public health programs alone jumped by 20 percent, according to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.

Alumni of the Department of Preventive Medicine are at the forefront of public health efforts nationwide. We’ve heard from many about how they’ve redirected their efforts in response to the pandemic.

“We are proud of our alumni who are doing important work to further our mission of improving population and public health locally and globally,” said Dr. Howard Hu, MD, MPH ScD, Flora L. Thornton Chair of the Department of Medicine.

For National Public Health Week, an annual event led by the American Public Health Association, we’d like to spotlight these alumni and say #ThankYouPublicHealth.

Head shot of Mary Helen BlackMary Helen Black ’09, Head of Population Analytics, Janssen Research & Development, a Johnson & Johnson company

“Working for Janssen allows me to contribute to the development of new or improved therapies for autoimmune disease, mood disorders, neurodegenerative disease, cancer, and metabolic dysfunction. Using large-scale human genomics data to inform on therapeutic development, we are able to provide evidence in support of new or existing compounds to treat disease and improve prediction of adverse events in clinical trials before patients ever receive a drug.”

Head shot of Ramon LlamasRamon Llamas ’09, Chief Strategy Officer, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health

“I’m leading strategy for a national nonprofit partnered with Duke Clinical Research Institute and UNC School of Medicine on a large NIH award on engaging hard to reach populations on COVID-19. I feel grateful to serve my country to address both COVID-19 and health equity issues.”

Head shot of Juleon RabbaniJuleon Rabbani ’08, Assistant Director, Biostatistical Consulting Unit, Kaiser Permanente Division of Research

“I design and implement impactful research with clinicians from a wide variety of specialties for the benefit of our patients and larger communities. We frequently have the ability to examine understudied populations (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities, transgender patients) and rare conditions (e.g., male breast cancer) due to our large membership and robust electronic medical record system.”

Head shot of Janie SheltonJanie F. Shelton ’05, Senior Scientist, 23andMe

“Infectious disease research has always been a passion of mine. At 23andMe, I was able to launch a large-scale study on COVID-19 that contributed findings on genetic and non-genetic risk factors. Over one million people responded to our survey, and our study was meta-analyzed with several large cohorts from around the world to drive advancements in identifying the biology of severe outcomes.”

Head shot of Diana TrejoDiana Trejo ’18, Homeless Programs Coordinator, City of Pasadena

“In my position I’m directly involved in overseeing federal, state, and local funding sources that come to the city for homeless services programs and implementing policies aimed at systems-based change within the homeless system of care. I go to work every day committed to the advancement of marginalized populations and supporting the needs of people experiencing homelessness to effect meaningful change.”

Do you have an alumni public health story? We’d love to hear about it! For more questions, please contact Karen Thomas at karentho@usc.edu.