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Visit from accomplished woman leader influences students’ futures

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It’s not every day students get to meet one of the worlds most influential people, let alone someone whose work aligns exactly with their studies and future careers.

But on April 4, undergraduates in health management and policy, health promotion and health behavior, and environmental engineering got an experience of a lifetime with the opportunity to ask Dr. Julie Gerberding specific questions relating to her expertise in public health during a semi-private session.

“The breadth of her knowledge was amazing,” says Public Health senior Danielle Villaret. “Dr. Gerberding has so much experience both nationally and internationally, it was remarkable to hear what’s she’s done in her lifetime. She was the director of the CDC during 9-11, so she was instrumental in combating bioterrorism and SARS. To get expert advice from someone who’s lived it and worked in public health is invaluable.”

Gerberding was the first woman director of the Centers for Disease Control, was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine in 2005, was listed among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World each year from 2005 to 2008 by Forbes Magazine and was given the Surgeon General’s Medallion, the highest honor bestowed by the United States Public Health Service, for actions of exceptional achievement for the cause of public health and medicine. She currently serves as the current president of Merck Global Vaccines.

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Dr. Julie Gerberding poses with Public Health senior Danielle Villaret.

“Her accomplishments are both extremely impressive and motivating,” Danielle says. “The fact that students got the chance to meet her, hear about her experience and see that she’s just another person, too, was amazing. She’s very humble and stayed after to talk with students.”

What’s even more encouraging to Danielle is the fact that Gerberding has been so successful in her career as a female in a predominately male-dominated industry.

“As a female going into industry, you look up to other women who have paved the way,” she says. “She told me that it wasn’t easy and that many times she was the only woman sitting at a table of all men, but she said you have to work hard to get where you want to be. I would like to make a difference in my work, be proud of myself and really contribute to the world. To meet someone who’s lived that life overseas and here is so inspirational and is something I’ll never forget.”

Danielle was nominated by college and university leaders to develop and implement a plan for the undergraduate session with Gerberding. “I have to thank Shelly Signs and Dr. Nancy Seifert for this incredible opportunity and for their support.”  She chose to include students from the three areas of study most related to Gerberding’s work, and organized which questions would be asked during their hour-and-a-half session.

She believes the most important questions asked were about a public health professional’s responsibility to the field, to the United States and to their jobs.

Gerberding also told the group that every single person can make a difference.

“She told us that everyone can make a difference. You can talk to your legislature or your state representative, and it’s really about people voicing their opinions and wanting to make a change,” Danielle says. “You don’t have to be a powerful person or group on Capitol Hill to make a difference. Every person has the ability to influence change.”

Danielle says the most inspirational moment was when Gerberding told them it struck her how the different colleges at Oregon State work together.

“As a female going into industry, you look up to other women who have paved the way.”

“Whether it’s the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Pharmacy or Engineering, we all work together. Dr. Gerberding said she’s never seen that on any other campus,” Danielle says. “To me, that said a lot about the CPHHS and the support of our college from Dean Tammy Bray and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies Marie Harvey, as well as our co-directors Karen Hooker and Sheryl Thorburn. We work together with other disciplines, and the type of mentality that we have is something I admire.”

Danielle says she felt affirmed she was studying in the right college when she recognized that the internship she landed after she graduates works off the same principles and uses the same theories as the CPHHS, specifically in her option of health management and policy.

“It’s reassuring that I’m graduating from a great college and that they are teaching the principles organizations are using,” she says. “I am very excited.”

Gerberding was invited by the associate deans in the Division of Health Sciences to present on “Healthy System Transformation: Becoming the Healthiest Nation” for the OSU Discovery Series on April 3. To view her lecture, click here. During her visit, she also met with graduate students and faculty in the CPHHS.

“We left a wonderful impression with her,” says CPHHS Dean Tammy Bray. “Her vision of building a healthier nation sounds like the building elements of our college. It made me very happy.”