Environmental Health Sciences (EHS), M.P.H. ’19
Public Health Associate*, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Victoria Ami Shirriff recently enrolled as a student at the University of California, Berkeley – School of Law, where she is pursuing a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) in Environmental Law. We asked her to describe her prior position with the CDC (Oct. 2019 – July 2021) for this spotlight.)
What is your current job?
I worked as a public health associate for the CDC’s Center for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support division in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). I did health geography for non-communicable diseases and transitioned to COVID-19 response work. I recently left my job to pursue my JD.
Describe your work and why you find it rewarding/challenging.
I was an embedded CDC staffer in the CNMI public health department. In the beginning, I worked in chronic disease, utilizing geographic information systems (GIS) to target areas for public health interventions. I switched to COVID-19 response at the start of the pandemic. I helped with data management and visualization, contact tracing, and vaccine distribution. Working in a resource-limited territory posed a unique set of challenges, however I received unparalleled on-the-job experience. I loved working at a local health department because of the incredible relationships I was able to build with others in the office as well as in the community.
How did YSPH prepare you for your current work?
One of the most beneficial things about YSPH was the emphasis on teamwork and community. Almost all of the work I did in public health centered around working with others. The number of assignments and practical experiences that YSPH encouraged that emphasized groupwork benefited me enormously. I learned how to lead and when to step back. Additionally, the Practice-Based Community Health Research course with Dr. Debbie Humphries taught me practical skills in project management and execution as well as thoughtful community engagement.
Do you have a favorite YSPH experience you can share?
My favorite YSPH experience was the work that I did with the YSPH sustainability committee. The sustainability committee was one of the first extracurricular activities I became involved in. I loved meeting others throughout YSPH who were dedicated to sustainability and I was given a great amount of support to pursue additional projects. It was incredibly rewarding to see an idea through from start to finish. The mentorship I received from Chief of Staff Heidi Richard and Dr. Robert Dubrow is something I deeply value to this day.
What advice do you have for current students?
Although I love YPSH, I encourage students to venture outside of the school and take advantage of the wealth of expertise across Yale University! I took incredible courses at the Yale School of the Environment, Yale Law School, and Yale College during my time at the university. These courses directly tied into my work in public health, especially my coursework in urban planning, GIS, and data visualization. Taking courses at the law school significantly influenced me in my career, as I am now pursuing my J.D. to further my aspirations of working in environmental and climate justice.
Were there any faculty or staff mentors who influenced your YSPH experience?
Heidi Richard was a huge influence on my experience. She provided me with support and encouragement in the work I was doing with the sustainability committee and helped me with my goals in public health and beyond. I am grateful for Dr. Robert Dubrow and his expertise in climate change and health. His course was integral to my studies and he was especially helpful as my thesis advisor. Dr. Debbie Humphries was another incredible professor. I enjoyed learning from her in and out of the classroom. She was always happy to talk about my goals and to connect me with others.