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Using Epidemiology to Improve the World

August 17, 2021
by Matt Kristoffersen

From her time at DeAnza Community College to her studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Alexandra Reynoso M.S. CDE ’21, had a feeling that epidemiology was her calling.

Her coursework in the Master of Science program at the Yale School of Public Health not only strengthened this conviction, it made it a reality.

“Before the pandemic, many people had no idea what an epidemiologist was. [My friends] thought I was going into dermatology or something,” Reynoso said. “But now everyone knows the importance of epidemiology.”

Now an associate scientist on the genetic epidemiology team at 23andMe, the leading consumer genetics and research company, Reynoso uses the skills she learned in the classroom at YSPH to investigate new ways of analyzing the relationship between genetics, environmental factors and chronic health problems. It’s a field that she’s passionate about and knows well. After spending time at the company designing surveys sent to research participants, she currently studies the data that’s gathered from them.

Surveying, epidemiology and data science are all things Reynoso said she picked up during her time at YSPH. And she appreciated the way the school provided frequent opportunities for her to connect with faculty and work with other students. But the COVID-19 pandemic made her YSPH experience much different from those who have gone through the program before. As a virtual student in the M.S./CDE program working from her home in California, Reynoso had to negotiate considerable time differences in order to attend classes at Yale on the East Coast, three time zones away.

“Learning about epidemiology online was a monumental and impactful step for me personally, given that we are facing a global pandemic. It’s something I’ll never forget and will carry with me throughout my career in public health,” she said. “Although it was tough, it was absolutely worth it in the end. I got as good of an education as I would have if I were learning in person.”

Reynoso said her time studying with her faculty mentor, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases) Yasmmyn Salinas, Ph.D. ’19, M.P.H. ’14, B.S. ’10, was a special highlight, as were the courses themselves.

“It was such a pleasure to be working with Dr. Salinas and to have her as a mentor during my Master of Science program,” she said. “A lot of the coursework I had taken was extremely in line with all the skills I wanted to have and all the skills I wanted to bring into the workforce.”

Reynoso had field experience in epidemiology even before she started at YSPH. While working toward her degree in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she conducted research into social determinants of health and racial health disparities. Berkeley’s social justice programs inspired her to find ways to apply her education for good, she said, which led her to also intern at a local environmental health nonprofit organization. When looking for graduate school opportunities, Reynoso explained that she wanted to find a place where she could continue finding applications for her schoolwork in the real world.

That’s what drove her to YSPH, she said. “Everything that I would be learning in class was something I could apply in the real world to make meaningful change.”

To prospective students, Reynoso has similar advice.

“Learning is only part of the journey. Continuously facing new experiences and applying your knowledge makes it whole,” she said. “If you don’t know where your passions and strengths lie, that’s okay. Put some thought into it, then get your boots in the field. Someday, it’ll just click.”

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on August 16, 2021