“I have always known that I wanted to be in a position where I could serve people,” says Kelsey Coy ’13.

When starting her Butler University career as a Secondary Education major, Coy 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 a research fellow and epidemiologist of Maternal Health with the CDC, she typically focuses on studying substance use and mental health before, during, and after pregnancy. 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 studies 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 virus has impacted specific countries or general regions. Their work provides decision-makers with the information they need to fight the pandemic.

“The CDC works from the data, so the information released is based on the data available,” Coy says. “As data changes, and as knowledge expands, the CDC’s advice might change. But for now, it’s pretty simple: Wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay at home if you can.”

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 at Butler.

“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.

Coy says her liberal arts education from Butler has been valuable to her current position, as she thinks critically about the health data she approaches each day.

“Butler set me up very, very well to question some of the things in our world.”

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.