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As Science Olympiad National Champions in last year’s Disease Detective event, Columbia students Abby Radin and Yang Yang were invited to participate in the annual Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia on Monday and Tuesday.

Disease Detectives, a Science Olympiad event sponsored, in part, by the CDC, requires students to learn the steps involved in an outbreak investigation and how to apply them to public health crises. The theme of the conference was, “SO WHAT?” After research has been completed, data collected and compiled, the work of the Epidemic Intelligence Service really starts. This group, made up of public health officials is also known as the Disease Detectives.

Abby Radin and Yang Yang with Rear Admiral Michael Idemarco, US Public Health Director.

Abby Radin and Yang Yang with Rear Admiral Michael Idemarco, US Public Health Director.

Mr. Yang and Ms. Radin received special recognition at the annual conference and were presented to an assembled group of more than 1,000 public health officials.

They toured the CDC and met Dr. Ralph Cordell, an epidemiologist with more than 25 years of experience at the CDC; Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, the Acting Director of the Center for Disease Control; Rear Admiral Michael Idemarco, US Public Health Director; and Dianna Carroll, Senior Health Scientist and Director of Human Development and Disability who each talked with the them extensively about their personal experiences and careers in public health.

Ms. Radin and Mr. Yang wrote the following reflections about their inspiring trip.

Abby Radin

I got to meet very kind and interesting people at the conference. What really stood out is the wide variety of backgrounds that all come together to form an organization full of incredibly smart and incredibly kind people.

Everyone was so willing to talk about their experiences in the EIS. The possibility of working in the public health field has been hovering in the back of my mind ever since I started doing this event in 8th grade. It now seems like a much more tangible goal. The joy everyone had in their jobs was clearly evident and made the conference a great opportunity to see what the CDC is like.

I also really enjoyed the tour of the Emergency Operation Center. The tour guide (Harvey) was great. It was fascinating to see where epidemiologists work on a day-to-day basis and how communication and teamwork is so prevalent throughout the entire CDC. I would love to visit again. Dr. Ralph Cordell, the organizer of our trip, was so nice and welcoming and he had so many stories to share. He really made the trip memorable.

Yang Yang

Visiting the CDC was a glimpse at the world of epidemiology. Our first day in Atlanta featured the flamboyant Dr. Ralph Cordell who brought us to the EIS conference, sharing stories of his work along the way. We spent the time watching presentations that featured everything from monkeypox to goat farms. Numerous EIS officers, from trainees to the acting director of the CDC, took the time to talk to us. They shared their journey from college onward and parted their infectious enthusiasm for the work they do. Yet, seeing their results couldn’t compare to watching them in action, and we got to do just that as we toured the CDC. Dr. Cordell kindly showed us around one of their campuses. Information from across the world played on screen in the control room as people directed calls and efforts.

The entire campus held a pulse that could only be felt by walking through the buildings. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this experience, and I now have my sights on a career in public health.