Meet HSOC Alum and Epidemiologist Danielle Sharpe

Danielle Sharpe

Posted November 9, 2021

Name: Danielle Sharpe

Graduation year: 2014

Degree: B.S. in History, Technology, & Society (HTS)

Company and location: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA

 

1. What do you do?  

I am currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Epidemiology at Emory University, studying the spatial accessibility of HIV prevention services for sexual minorities.

I am also a Geospatial Epidemiologist in the Geospatial Research, Analysis, and Services Program (GRASP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where I lead the CDC Social Vulnerability Index program. The CDC Social Vulnerability Index is an effort to identify, quantify, and map communities across the U.S. with levels of social vulnerability and disadvantage that make those communities less able to prepare for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies and other community-level stressors.

In July 2022, I will be joining CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service to serve on the front lines of public health and investigate public health threats and emerging diseases in the U.S. and worldwide.

 

2. What’s the coolest part of your job?

The coolest part of my work at CDC is the real-world, practical impact to which I get to contribute. I get the opportunity to actively influence public health action and directly affect the public health of Americans every day. 

 

3. Why are you passionate about this work?

I am passionate about epidemiology, social vulnerability, and health equity because centuries of structural and systemic discrimination against many different groups in this country have manifested into adverse health outcomes that are more so linked to inequities in our society as opposed to individual human behavior.

The institutions and policies that structure our society as well as the places in which we live, work, and play all influence our health. In GRASP, we have a saying that “ZIP codes are just as important as genetic codes in determining our health,” and we have seen this rather clearly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

4. How did you find your job/what’s the best resource for jobs or networking you’ve found?

I found my job as a result of enrolling in a spatial epidemiology course at Emory. During this course, my classmates and I worked on a semester-long project investigating the geospatial patterns and determinants of various public health problems.

At the end of the course, we presented our projects to a panel of public health scientists from CDC. One of the scientists, Sharon Murphy, who is now a research scientist at Georgia Tech, found my semester project to be interesting and connected me with her colleagues at CDC who conducted geospatial research. From this, I secured full-time employment with the GRASP team at CDC as a geospatial epidemiologist.

Thus, the best resource for jobs would be people — alumni, faculty, current employees at your dream workplace, and even your fellow classmates. For instance, prior to Sharon connecting me with my current team at CDC, I was mentored by Dr. Amy Wolkin from CDC as part of a predoctoral fellowship. Thanks to Dr. Wolkin’s mentorship, I was already familiar with several scientists in GRASP and some of their projects, which helped me adjust to GRASP’s fast-paced working environment and assimilate into the team more quickly. People are your best resource for reaching your goals, whether professional or personal.

 

5. What’s the most surprising detour you’ve taken from your career path? What did you learn from it? 

Often, when people think about the field of public health, they associate popular majors, such as biology, with an interest in public health. However, public health is so much more; it is built upon sociology, statistics, anthropology, environmental health, health communication, public policy, and even history.

So, my greatest detour to a career in public health has been my decision to major in History, Technology, & Society at Georgia Tech. By majoring in HTS, I was able to study concepts and take classes that I still refer back to today, classes such as Dr. John Tone’s History of Medicine course, Dr. Willie Pearson Jr.’s Race, Science, and Medicine course, and Dr. Jennifer Singh’s Sociology of Medicine and Health course.

There is a saying that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and I believe I received the greatest education of them all from HSOC — an understanding of the history of medicine and the social implications of various public health developments across time. This understanding has given me the perspective and context to make real differences in the world through public health.

 

6. What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced since graduating, and how did you overcome it? 

The greatest challenge I’ve faced since graduating from Georgia Tech in 2014 has been balancing a full-time job at CDC and being an Epidemiology doctoral student at Emory University, all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both CDC and Emory have been instrumental in responding to the pandemic in many ways, and it has been a fun challenge to continue my pre-pandemic research projects while shifting my focus to COVID-19 response efforts as well. It has been a wild ride, but having a system (e.g., calendars and time management apps) to help me prioritize my projects has helped immensely.

 

7. What’s your #1 tip for students and alumni interested in your field?

Be open-minded. There are many different paths you can take to reach your goals. Seek out opportunities to investigate a problem you are interested in from different perspectives and fields of study, and meaningfully connect with people who are invested in helping you reach your goals.

 

8. Can HSOC students and alum contact you if they’re interested in following in your footsteps?

Yes. 

 

9. What are some things you can speak to and the best way for them to contact you?

Navigating a career in public health, graduate school applications, and mentorship. The best way to contact me is at my work email address (oyv7@cdc.gov).

 

Thank you for sharing your experience, Danielle! Stay tuned on FacebookLinkedInInstagram, and Twitter for new alumni spotlights every month. 

Contact For More Information

Di Minardi

di.minardi@gatech.edu