September 2, 2021 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
As an epidemiology student interested in infectious diseases, Jessica Simon was perfectly positioned to support the Midlands when the COVID-19 pandemic began. The Simpsonville, South Carolina native was working as a graduate research assistant for the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health when the state shut down in response to surging infection rates of SARS-CoV-2 in March of 2020.
By May, she was serving the Midlands region as a COVID-19 data manager for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. For the next year, up until her May 2021 graduation from the Arnold School’s Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program, Simon oversaw surveillance data and maintained lists of COVID-19 outbreak cases in congregate settings (e.g., long-term care facilities, detention centers).
“This experience with field epidemiology influenced my career path because it showed me another side of epidemiology, outside of research, and how hands on public health can be,” she says. “Ultimately, it influenced my decision to apply for the Rollins COVID-19 Epidemiology Fellowship program because it expands on my previous experience and knowledge and gives me the opportunity to gain the skills needed to become a successful epidemiologist.”
A member of the program since June, Simon will spend the next two years immersed in intensive training as part of the Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative while providing support to the Savannah-area health district. In addition to discovering more about the COVID-19 pandemic, she will also learn about other infectious diseases to better understand how public health and epidemiology impact communities.
Although she has known for years that she wanted to work in the health field, Simon originally imagined a career working with patients one-on-one as an occupational therapist. Her courses as an undergraduate at the College of Charleston, however, open her eyes to public health and its wide-scale impact. After discovering her interest in the cause and distribution of diseases within communities, she knew that epidemiology would always offer something new to learn.
As a student in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Simon found a mentor in professor Jihong Liu, who served as her academic advisor and connected her with research and practicum opportunities. In parallel with her role at SC DHEC, Simon also worked with Liu on a study examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on pregnant and post-partum women.
“This research opportunity influenced my education because I was able to take many of the concepts I was learning in classes and apply them to real world public health research,” says the 2021 Outstanding Epidemiology Master’s Student Award winner.
After completing her fellowship, Simon plans to work as an epidemiologist in health departments focused on disease surveillance for notifiable diseases. She is also considering a doctoral degree so that she can educate future public health practitioners and researchers and continue to advocate for the importance of field.