In Epidemic Intelligence Service, Alumna Tracks Down Clues About Outbreaks

August 22, 2018 • by Esther Robards-Forbes
A woman on the left speaks with a woman on the right pointing out info in a booklet

Sydney Jones, left, working at a community health fair in 2010 while interning with the UT School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus. Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones.

Sydney Jones (BSA, '10) has studied cardiovascular health and diabetes on the Texas border, researched improvements for stroke care in North Carolina, and promoted community health, working with a nonprofit organization. Now the University of Texas alumna is taking on a new role: disease detective for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jones, who studied human biology and who completed two applied public health research experiences at UT under the guidance of faculty member Leanne Field, has received a prestigious two-year fellowship, joining the Epidemic Intelligence Service training program with the CDC. Officers, called disease detectives, are trained for emergency response and outbreak investigation, tackling everything from food-borne illnesses to Ebola.

"This is an opportunity to begin a career where hopefully I can make an impact by working on the front lines to improve public health," Jones said.

This year, 66 EIS officers were chosen from among more than 480 applicants. They range from physicians to PhDs, nurses to veterinarians. They are stationed all over the United States and may be deployed overseas. Jones will be stationed in Connecticut. Most go on to careers with the CDC, while others work in public health, academia or clinical settings.


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"I am beyond thrilled that one of our students has attained such a high honor and been selected for such a prestigious program from individuals across the nation," said Field, public health program director and distinguished senior lecturer with the School of Human Ecology and Red McCombs School of Business.

Jones says a study-abroad program to Cordoba, Argentina while she attended UT, helped boost her interest in public health. She finished in the top 1 percent of her class as a Dean's Honored Graduate and earned the Patricia Heard Outstanding Student Educator Leadership Award for her efforts as a tutor with the UT learning center. After graduation, she spent 10 weeks at a UT regional campus in Brownsville, in conjunction with an ongoing program in UT public health, where she got to see firsthand the efforts to curb diabetes and heart disease in underserved communities.

"I had a great experience at UT," Jones said. "it provided me an opportunity to interact with so many different types of people, getting to meet people from all over the state and all over the world, and to get hands-on public health experience with inspiring mentors."

She went on to earn her master's degree in public health and a PhD in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Her research looked at physical activity and sedentary behavior in people during the transition from work to retirement. She found that people of higher socio-economic status were better able to maintain their level of activity after retirement than people of lower socio-economic status, who reported declining levels of activity.