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Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Emanuel Ayala

July 1, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

Growing up in Anderson, South Carolina, Emanuel (Manny) Ayala’s time was filled with sports. As a young child, he dabbled in everything from running clubs to neighborhood pick up games. And soccer; lots of soccer. By high school, Ayala was intrigued by athletic performance, digging into the underlying factors of physical fitness (e.g., conditioning, nutrition, running biomechanics). 

“It was during this time that I also began to build a profound interest in anatomy and physiology,” Ayala says. “I saw these subjects as the culmination of all the biological sciences I had taken during the years of high school.”

After learning about the Arnold School’s B.S. in Exercise Science degree from a former teammate, Ayala enrolled in the major. By his sophomore year, he was gaining experience as a research assistant in associate professor Mark Sarzynski’s Foundations of Lipids and Exercise (FLEX) Laboratory. By junior year, he had secured his own funding through a Magellan Scholar Research Award to study HDL anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative responses to endurance exercise training. Senior year, Ayala was one of three graduating seniors to receive the Outstanding Exercise Science Student award.

After his 2019 graduation, Ayala enrolled in his department’s Master of Science in Exercise Science program to deepen his understanding of the field even further. Continuing his work with Sarzynski in the FLEX Lab, Ayala secured a $123K National Institutes of Health Diversity Supplement to expand upon his mentor’s $3.4 million R01 study into the impact of exercise on HDL particles. Over the past year, he has presented research at the 2020 southeast regional and 2021 national annual meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine.

“From my undergraduate studies all the way through the present day, Dr. Sarzynksi has been the most amazing mentor – teaching me to apply critical thought and reasoning to every aspect of the field of scientific research, from reading articles to performing laboratory assays and writing manuscripts,” the Outstanding Master of Science Student Achievement Award and American Kinesiology Association’s National Masters Student Award Honorable Mention winner says. “With his guidance and support throughout these years, I have been able to launch my academic, research and professional limits to new heights and develop a deep appreciation for the important role of research in informing healthcare professionals, patients and the world.”

Ayala will take these lessons learned into the next phase of his career pursing a Doctor of Medicine. With his public health perspective firmly in place, he plans to work toward providing underserved populations with healthcare services and educational opportunities to improve disease prevention and management.

“My family immigrated to the United States before I was born, so I have a special interest in serving the immigrant and Hispanic communities because of how intimidating it is for members of these communities to seek medical assistance when needed,” says Ayala, who has already begun practicing community engagement by starting a neighborhood daily walking group to encourage physical activity. “Being able to understand the cultures, speak the language, and understand their circumstances from first-hand experience creates a connection that builds trust like nothing else. This trusting connection is what will make the difference in improving the lives of these communities.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.