Christie Jones was at a crossroads as she came to the end of her second year at Emory. She was on the path that she had always envisioned – a biology major completing her pre-med requirements, but she felt something was missing. Fortunately, luck and circumstance intervened offering Christie on opportunity to develop her interests in health and research as a student in the 4+1 ENVS BS/MPH program in Environmental Health. Her interests were initially piqued when she heard about an opportunity in Professor Tom Gillespie’s lab under the supervision of a 5th year student in the BS/MPH program, Miranda Mitchell. Eventually meeting with and talking with Professor Gillespie, Christie recalls,
I met with Dr. Gillespie to discuss continuing my work with him after Miranda’s graduation. In discussing my academic history and goals, he urged me to consider the 4+1 ENVS BS/MPH program and a major in ENVS. I actually remember calling my mother right after the meeting and excitedly telling her that I had finally figured out what I wanted to do—what inspired me. I hadn’t realized that this late in the game, I still had so many opportunities.
Working in the Gillespie Lab has been transformative. One of the most important relationships that she has cultivated has been with Amanda Vicente, a PhD student in Dr. Gillespie’s lab. Amanda’s doctoral research on the disease ecology of bats has been a springboard for many undergraduate students in Professor Gillespie’s lab to gain valuable field experience coupled with traditional lab research. For Christie, “Amanda has been integral to the evolution of my lab work and consistently pushed me to think about what I want to learn and do and experience.”
In early March, Christie was honored to be awarded the Halle Institute’s Global Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Prior to COVID-19, Christie had plans to travel to Costa Rica this summer with Amanda and a multi-disciplinary team of undergraduates to “perform a multifaceted study of rabies perception and transmission.” Like most research in the world of COVID-19, Christie has had to re-envision her summer – she is still hopeful she will travel to Costa Rica next summer to conduct field research. According to Christie, her summer 2020 research will use “human and bovine rabies outbreak data from 1985-2019 in Costa Rica to create a spatial-temporal map of outbreaks/vaccination response by year. I intend to also map significant land-use changes in Costa Rica. Once UGA opens, I will work with their stable isotope lab to analyze the feeding preference of bat samples that Amanda has collected, and synthesize this information with that of the map. This will inform our trip next summer and my MPH master’s thesis!”
Christie is eagerly looking forward to being back on campus. She is missing the friendships and collaboration that she has found in the lab, never in a million years thinking that she would miss some of the monotonous tasks that accompany lab work. She misses her friends and looks forward to group chats that “evolved” with other ENVS friends from Professor Martin’s Evolution of the Earth course. As a department we are incredibly grateful for the gifts that Christie brings and it seems the feeling is mutual: “The people in the ENVS department, both faculty and students, continue to be instrumental to my growth as a student and scientist, so I can’t wait to see them all in person.”