Detoxifying and Demystifying Public Health
Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health, MPH ’22
“Even remotely, networking with fellow classmates and likeminded individuals has been amazing. The people at Rollins want to be there. We all similarly want to help the world and people on an individual level.”
While Emily Olack enjoyed being in an environmental toxicology laboratory during her undergraduate years studying microbiology at Clemson, she knew she wanted her future career to be more people-oriented.
“I’m in most cases a people person and wanted to share in their stories and experiences,” says Olack, who is originally from northwest Indiana.
Now a second-year MPH student in the Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health, Olack applied to Rollins—and only Rollins—toward the end of 2019.
“I decided that I would either get out and work, or I would go here. Since I got accepted and received a scholarship, Rollins it was!”
Dr. Mike Caudle, research associate professor (and Olack’s favorite faculty member), had an impact on her decision as well. During a campus tour pre-COVID, she knocked on his door and asked if he had a few minutes to chat.
“He said, ‘Absolutely, come on in.’ We talked about research and policy. He has been an incredibly supportive professor since before I got in. I have had two classes with him since. He brought students’ attention to mental health and sent out messages of support during the pandemic,” she says.
As for the classroom and learning environment during the pandemic, Olack says all of the safety measures Rollins—and the university—took was even better than expected. She also enjoyed the flexibility between in-person and Zoom classes, and found that combination helpful in adjusting to the graduate school workload.
The flexibility also enabled her to take a Rollins Earn and Learn position with the Michigan PBB Research Registry, overseen by Dr. Michele Marcus in Rollins’ Department of Epidemiology. The registry follows a cohort of people across the state of Michigan who were exposed to the chemical, polybrominated biphenyl, through a shipping mishap in the 1970s that led to contaminated food. In Olack’s position, she helps with recruiting participants to get blood tests, organizing events and virtual community meetings, and database organization.
This summer, Olack has also been involved in another applied practice experience working with CleanAirNow, an environmental justice air-monitoring organization in Kansas City. She has been focused on an air-quality study related to traffic and truck pollution, and the scope of work has included hosting community meetings.
While she hasn’t physically been at Rollins much over the last year due to COVID-19, Olack says she has had a great experience so far nonetheless.
“Even remotely, networking with fellow classmates and likeminded individuals has been amazing. The people at Rollins want to be there. We all similarly want to help the world and people on an individual level,” Olack says.
She adds, “We do a lot of hangouts outside of school, and I got to experience Atlanta. It’s a great city to be in with the parks, BeltLine, and breweries. We all come together and enjoy things outside of the academic environment, but our conversations focus on things happening around the world.”
Olack is still figuring out what she’d like to do post-graduation. While she’s enjoying her current positions, she might like to work for a larger, national organization next. Whatever path she takes upon graduation, Olack would like to be at the intersection of data collection and community engagement.
“I would like to be able to contribute to a lay person’s engagement with public health and science so that the average person can understand public health concerns,” she says.