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Claire Litherland ′09

Last summer I had the opportunity to intern in a commercial laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, that specializes in biological public health issues. I sought out this experience because I thought the lab work would supplement my biology major and further inform my interest in public health. While I did gain many laboratory skills and practical knowledge, what most struck me was the broader consequences the biological work had on business and the economy.

While working in the laboratory, I assisted with the culture and identification of environmental microbes. By working to create protocols for prevention and responses should an infection occur, I got to observe how businesses reacted to these organisms. The fates of the two were inextricably intertwined; how could such a minute bacteria or fungus have such a profound impact on the economy? And how could industry react properly without scientific guidance?

Last fall, I was also able to study abroad in Cairo, Egypt; I arrived just weeks after Avian Flu had been isolated in the chicken population and all chickens had been culled. This had a monumental effect on all aspects of Egyptian life. Not only was there the fear of the mutation and transmission of the virus, but also the impact that the decimation of the birds had on the Egyptian economy, in which the poultry industry plays a huge role. To really understand the implications of this experience it is necessary to understand the importance of Bird Flu as a virus that could seriously threaten the global population, but also the economic effects of the response to the disease.

These experiences have motivated me to create a bridge major that reflects the full scope of influence that biology has on the functions of the economy, the role economics plays in shaping health and health care, and the way in which public health functions within these two disciplines. Like my encounter in Cairo, in order to understand a complete picture of the issues and obstacles facing public health, I need to understand all the elements at work, from the molecular level – looking at the causes of disease – and at the economic level – exploring the institutions and principles that drive the business sector and shape government policy.

By combining relevant courses from the biology and economics departments, I hope to better understand the biological causes of disease and the way in which the manifestation of disease resonates in economics.

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