Skip to Content

Arnold School of Public Health

Growing expertise in infectious diseases engages students in epidemiology and biostatistics

October 14, 2019 | Erin Bluvas,

In the past few years, the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics has made significant strides in growing its expertise in infectious disease epidemiology.  The School’s efforts to increase its contributions to this perpetually relevant field are reflected by the department’s recruitment of Melissa Nolan and Monique Brown in 2018, and Mufaro Kanyangarara will be joining UofSC in the coming months. Already, the Arnold School is feeling the effects of this expertise in infectious diseases.

Nolan’s work focuses on infectious diseases and health disparities, with a particular interest in how to stop the transmission of diseases that disproportionately affect the poor – both in the United States and around the world. Kanyangarara also employs a global health approach, examining infectious diseases among mothers, newborns and children in low- and middle-income countries. Brown brings expertise in how various factors (e.g., childhood trauma, social/behavioral/mental health, aging) affect HIV intervention and prevention. 

In addition to their research programs, these faculty members are enhancing Arnold School students’ educational experiences by sharing their expertise in the classroom – both deepening and broadening understanding of infectious diseases for students across public health disciplines. However, some students have found a passion for the field that extends beyond academic coursework. The arrival of these faculty members also means mentorship opportunities for students interested in leading edge research in this critical field.  

Doctoral student Katie Lynn studied Chagas disease during her master’s program at the College of Charleston when she met Nolan, who is one of the few Chagas experts in the country. Lynn joined Nolan on several projects (e.g., Trichomoniasis in pediatric populations, Chagas disease in the U.S. and Latin America, GI parasites among children in El Salvador) in her lab and soon enrolled in the Ph.D. in Epidemiology program.

“Infectious diseases are so fascinating and complex, and there are so many facets that I am interested in,” Lynn says. “In my master’s program I focused on sociobehavioral and environmental factors contributing to infectious diseases. Currently I am interested in neglected parasitic infections that primarily affect vulnerable or disadvantaged populations.”

Lynn recently won a travel award from the American Society of Tropical Medicine to attend the Burroughs Wellcome ‘Omics course in London. After completing her degree, she plans to join a non-governmental organization to implement common sense strategies for preventing neglected parasitic infections in vulnerable populations.

Brianna Tennie’s interest in infectious diseases began when she took an undergraduate public health microbiology course at Clemson University that introduced her to the field of epidemiology. She joined the Arnold School’s Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program, and her advisor introduced her to Nolan after she expressed an interest in continuing to learn more about infectious diseases.  

Nolan invited Tennie to work with her on a study to understand the transmission risk factors for patients with antibiotic resistant Klebsiella infections by generating medical chart abstractions. This project was funded through Prisma Health’s Seed Grant program and integrates physicians and academicians in a unified effort to improve the health of South Carolinians.

“My interest in infectious diseases includes a special interest in food-borne and bacterial/viral infections,” says Tennie, who may pursue a career in surveillance and data tracking or perhaps working on projects that focus on the molecular level. “However, with work that I have done recently I am exploring other types of infectious diseases that I have also found interesting.”

Through the Arnold School’s introduction of epidemiology to undergraduates studying public health, bachelor’s-level students have benefited from the department’s growing infectious disease expertise as well. McKenzi Norris connected with Nolan when a professor from another class suggested that students attend Nolan’s lecture on her research. Norris reached out to her for guidance on how to get involved with infectious disease research, graduate school opportunities and professional development. Together, they wrote a grant proposal and crowdfunded a project studying the distribution and abundance of Aedes mosquitoes in Charleston county this past summer. Additionally, Norris and Nolan are starting a new student infectious diseases organization that will kick off in January.

“My primary interest relating to infectious disease is understanding the role of the environment and ecological factors on the epidemiology of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases,” says Norris, who presented at the Society for Vector Ecology meeting in Puerto Rico in September. “Infectious disease really stuck out to me because I think there's something thrilling about studying how populations and their environments interact with diseases like malaria or Lyme disease, which can sometimes be severe and fast-acting.”

After graduation, Norris plans to stay at UofSC to earn a master’s in epidemiology. Long term, he’d like to complete a Ph.D. in tropical medicine or environmental health and pursue an academic career conducting research and teaching.


Infectious diseases expert Melissa Nolan joins epidemiology and biostatistics department

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.