International Student Finds Passion for Epidemiology

International Student Finds Passion for Epidemiology

Fareedat Bello sits at a table with two other women, discussing her internship priorities.

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 11, 2020) – Fareedat Bello, an international student from Nigeria working towards a Master’s degree in Epidemiology, struggled to adapt to the U.S. education system during her first semester at UAlbany. Now, she’s flourishing in her epidemiology courses and interning at the renowned New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, known for its innovative and forward-thinking approach to the HIV/AIDs epidemic.

“The teaching system is very different in the U.S. from what I was used to back in Nigeria,” Bello says. “It wasn’t a smooth start for me, but I loved EPI 501: Principles and Methods of Epidemiology and that it kept me on my feet. I wanted to dive in even deeper.”

Originally enrolled to complete a Master of Public Health degree, Bello switched to the Master’s program in Epidemiology so she could gain an in-depth understanding of public health through an epidemiology lens. She aspires to continue on to her PhD and focus on HIV/STD research, contributing her skills and experience to help find solutions to global health challenges. At her internship placement with the AIDS Institute, a partner organization for the University’s Center for Collaborative HIV Research in Practice and Policy, Bello is receiving important hands-on experience to help her accomplish this goal.

Bello interns at the Institute’s Bureau of HIV/STD Field Services, which reaches out to patients who have tested positive for STIs and those who may benefit from testing and/or treatment. Disease Investigation Specialists conduct interviews to help reduce complications from infection and minimize potential spread, following a prioritization grid developed using an algorithm that shows field staff which cases to work on when morbidity is high. Bello writes program codes and analyzes data in excel, which helps to improve the process to prioritize cases and make the biggest impact.

“My mentors and team members are so supportive and encouraging,” Bello says. “I’ve gained experience in analyzing and presenting information which has helped me better understand how data can be used to make informed public health decisions—and ultimately, effective programs.”

Bello notes that interning in epidemiology during the pandemic has shown her the true importance of the field, and how technology can be used to ensure that programming can continue. She has worked both in the office and remotely to gain experience at the AIDS Institute, interacting with her mentors via Zoom in between their weekly in-person interactions.

“I’m so glad I chose this field,” Bello says, stressing that the internship sparked her interest in HIV and STD research and emphasized the importance of keeping infectious diseases from spreading. “Especially now, seeing the significant role epidemiology plays in a pandemic situation like COVID-19.”