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WashU's global focus prepares alumna for international public health work

Since graduating from the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis in 2013, Jennifer Head has been busy using her engineering education and her passion for working internationally to improve human health.

Head says WashU’s global focus — particularly in Engineering — as well as the opportunity to travel three times to Ethiopia with EWB to work on a water sanitation project at the Mekelle School for the Blind helped to prepare her for later work there.

Head, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, recently began working at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta with a Global Health Fellowship from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health/CDC. She will be working in Kazakhstan studying the mortality from influenza in that country’s two largest cities, as well as the etiology of encephalitis and meningitis in one area of the country; Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, a tick-borne disease in livestock transferred from animals to humans; and Zika virus.

The fellowship comes after earning a master’s of public health in global environmental health from Emory University in May 2016 with certificates in water, sanitation and hygiene and in complex humanitarian emergencies, as well as working on public health projects in Laos and Ethiopia. With a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, she spent nine months in Ethiopia studying the fortification of edible oils and wheat flours. The following summer, Head returned to Ethiopia for two months to create an evaluation for a Catholic Relief Services program integrating water sanitation and hygiene intervention into traditional nutritional intervention, which was closely related to her master’s thesis topic.

Head’s interest in international work stems from her WashU Engineering education and involvement with WashU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

“I had always wanted to be involved in international work, and I’ve always been interested in math and science,” Head says. “That’s why I chose engineering. I imagined that I could do work internationally as an engineer doing water and sanitation work. I was able to do some of that at WashU through EWB.”

Head says WashU’s global focus — particularly in Engineering — as well as the opportunity to travel three times to Ethiopia with EWB to work on a water sanitation project at the Mekelle School for the Blind helped to prepare her for later work there through the Fulbright Fellowship.

“WashU prepared me to be an independent researcher and use the country connections,” she says. “It was a challenging experience, but I grew and learned a lot that year, and I felt prepared for it.”

While working on her master’s, she also worked with the Emergency Response and Recovery Branch of the CDC, working to predict the excess death toll from non-Ebola deaths during the

Ebola epidemic in West Africa, as well as collaborating on a book chapter. This past summer, she went to Laos for two months as a nutrition survey consultant for Save the Children, International, for which she is still doing consulting work.

While an Engineering student, Head was a William H. Danforth Scholar, a John B. Ervin Scholar, a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar and a James M. McKelvey Scholar, in addition to winning numerous awards and graduating summa cum laude.

Working in the public health field has opened Head’s eyes to a different kind of science, she says.

“I see that there is such a need for people with strong quantitative skills, particularly in areas like data analysis or lab work,” she says. “A lot of those skills I gained from WashU. For a lot of the work that I’ve done, like the surveys in Ethiopia and Laos, the organizations were interested in me because of my analytical skills.”

She also credits the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student — both with Engineering faculty and during summers with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — with preparing her for her current work.

“The energy, environmental & chemical engineering department has a great focus on the environment,” she says. “My public health degree is in global environmental health, and I feel like understanding a lot of the environmental issues from an engineering perspective was really helpful in my coursework and career.”



The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 21,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.


WashU Women & Engineering

Women & Engineering was established as an organization for engineering alumnae from Washington University in St. Louis to support each other; inspire and mentor our women students; and help shape the School of Engineering & Applied Science.