“I have always known that I wanted to be active in a position where I could serve people,” says Kelsey Coy ’13.
Coy has dedicated her life to serving the public good. When starting her Butler University career as a Secondary Education major, she never dreamed of becoming a social epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—or of serving on an international task force during a global pandemic.
In her current role as an epidemiologist of Maternal Health with the CDC, Coy typically focuses on studying substance use and mental health before, during, and after pregnancy. She recently published a paper on the prevalence of postpartum depression. She has also served on the emergency response for the lung injury epidemic associated with e-cigarette or vaping product use. That is, until she was deployed to the international task force for the CDC’s COVID-19 emergency response.
Now, Coy is studying the ways stay-at-home orders and other mitigation measures impact case counts. Using data from countries all over the world, she and her colleagues are able to provide insight into the unique ways this epidemic has impacted specific countries or general regions. Their work provides decision-makers with the information they need to fight the pandemic. Instead of working in the Emergency Operations Center at the CDC, Coy and her colleagues are working long hours at home, keeping up with the constantly changing data.
“The one thing I really want people to know is to check the CDC website and to trust that we are doing the best we can to keep the public safe,” she says. “There is no partisanship in the messaging. We work from the data, so the information we release is based on the data we have as we go. As data changes, and as our knowledge expands, our advice might change. But for now, it’s pretty simple: Wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay at home if you can. And be patient. Science points that this pandemic isn’t going to be the quickest thing.”
Drawn to The Butler Way
During her senior year of high school, Coy and her mother were driving home to Bloomington, Indiana, from a speech and debate competition. Even though she had applied to Butler, Coy had not yet visited the campus, so they decided to make a pit stop. It was the middle of winter break, and not many people were around as they roamed the sidewalks, but a student walked up and asked if Coy was thinking about coming to the University.
It turned out the student was a tour guide, and she offered to show Coy around. Coy remembers feeling a unique sense of kindness on Butler’s campus—what students refer to as The Butler Way—that was unlike any other campus she had visited. She also felt that Butler really cared about her and what she had to offer.
Coy discovered the field of epidemiology after reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, a biography about physician Paul Farmer’s work fighting tuberculosis, in her first-year seminar class.
“When I first learned what epidemiology was, it honestly felt like I had found my home,” Coy says. So, she changed her major to Biology and started finding opportunities to work on epidemiology research.
After graduating in 2013, Coy joined the Peace Corps and served for three years in Swaziland, now called the Kingdom of Eswatini. She didn’t want to attend graduate school right away, but she knew she wanted public health experience, as well as the opportunity to live abroad.
Upon returning to the United States, Coy attended the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in hopes of eventually working for the CDC. Lucky for Coy, during her second year of graduate school, she landed a global health internship with the organization.
Coy says her liberal arts education from Butler has been extremely valuable to her current position, as she thinks critically about the health data she approaches each day. For instance, the CDC has recently discovered that people of color are more likely to die from COVID-19. Coy is studying the social factors that drive this trend, thinking about the impacts of structural racism to better understand why this is happening.
“Butler set me up very, very well to start to question some of the things in our world,” Coy says.
Note: The statements made in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
News Content Manager