Notes from the Field: Katherine Royce ’19

Katherine Royce ’19 interned with EcoHealth Alliance (EHA) for the Spring 2017 term. The following is an excerpt from her internship report.

During the spring of 2017, I completed a health and policy internship with EcoHealth Alliance (EHA), a nonprofit research organization which uses the principles of local conservation and scientific inquiry to protect global health from the emergence of disease. By researching the interfaces between human, wildlife, and environmental health, EHA develops science and policy methods to prevent pandemics. I was assigned to work with the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense to review the U.S. effort to strengthen national biodefense. In 2015, the Panel issued a set of recommendations to Congress, with the goal of improving U.S. capacity to prevent and respond to outbreaks of infectious disease, whether naturally occurring or intentionally introduced. During my internship, I assisted the Panel in researching how these recommendations had been implemented by federal and state governments and the agricultural industry, and my work will appear in its forthcoming report.

In addition, I collaborated with EHA’s modelling and analytics team to create and experiment with a mathematical model of avian influenza, as part of the organization’s longstanding partnership with Emerging Pandemic Threats, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project to identify and respond to emerging zoonotic diseases before they affect humans. Not only did I learn the analytical and technical skills necessary to run computationally heavy simulations and simplify a regional industry to a set of 19 parameters, I also recognized how few of the factors that affect a disease are under human control. My work simulated outbreaks on a metapopulation of chicken farms to determine the effect of different policy interventions in changing poultry industries, a project that will be published this fall.             

My internship honed my professional skills as a researcher, policy analyst, and speaker, skills which will certainly help me in my Dartmouth career, law school, and beyond. While adjusting to the pace of research work and policy advocacy did present an obstacle during my internship, I was able to self-advocate for tasks that met my time commitment and agreed with my interests, an initiative which led me to more rewarding experiences such as policy analysis and independent research. Realizing the effect of the scientific process on public policy has strengthened my conviction that a grounding in mathematics and research is necessary to advocate for effective change.

In the short term, this internship has reaffirmed my plan to pursue a math and biology major as part of a global-health-focused undergraduate experience. The research and mathematical skills I am developing guide every aspect of EcoHealth’s advocacy, and I am certain that any career I choose will be grounded on these principles. In the future, however, I wish to continue the policy advocacy work which I began this term. As a result, I hope to attend law school and work in the field of global health law, an area which combines both my scientific and political interests. All of this was possible through the Rockefeller Center, and its support allowed me to pursue this amazing internship for which I am deeply thankful.