It had been three years since Adela Hoffman '10 was last in Mozambique. When she first arrived in 2012, she dreamt of making an immediate and radical difference as a Peace Corps Community Health Volunteer. It didn't take long to realize that global change isn't immediate but, as Hoffman says, “a very complex business” built through small victories and relationships.
When she returned in 2017, armed with a Master of Public Health from Emory University, Hoffman had returned as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) employee, to provide technical assistance for a vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreak response and subsequent vaccination campaign.
For the next month, she would work alongside Mozambican Ministry of Health officials and World Health Organization representatives to identify villages at risk for poliovirus and help train community workers on the importance of the latest mapping technology to advance their preventative efforts.
“It was cool to have a chance to go back,” says Hoffman, a member of CDC's Global Rapid Response Team since 2016. “I was able to apply my newfound education and work experience to make an impact. And that's what I've wanted to do all along.”
An international studies and political science double major, Hoffman can trace the beginnings of her current professional goals to the years she spent at Denison.
“I worked at the Center for Women and Gender Action and volunteered with SHARE (Sexual Harassment & Assault Resources & Education) as a student. I think that, combined with my study abroad experience in Namibia, really sparked my interest in public health as a career for myself,” says Hoffman, whose father and two siblings also attended Denison.
Isis Nusair, associate professor of international studies, taught Hoffman and supervised her senior research paper, which was on residual inequality in land and education reform post-apartheid in Namibia. “One of the mysteries of teaching is that we never know what students will do with the knowledge they gain inside and outside the classroom,” Nusair says. “It is always heartening to see how they use that knowledge to make a difference in the world around them. It is great to see how Adela is putting her education into use as a Peace Corps volunteer and working for the CDC in Mozambique and Atlanta.”
Beyond her education outside of the classroom, Hoffman also considers the college's liberal arts values as crucial to her success.
“Denison's critical thinking emphasis and multidisciplinary approach has granted me a really unique perspective,” she says. “It allows me to adapt a variety of skills to different cultural contexts, which is essential for working in a global setting.”
And, with 70 percent of the world’s countries self-reporting to be unprepared to properly prevent, detect, and respond to a public health emergency, Hoffman and her team have their work ahead of them. In the past two and a half years alone, CDC’s Global Rapid Response Team have mobilized more than 500 times for public health emergencies such as the Zika virus response and hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Matthew.
On site, Hoffman and others work on everything — identifying the source of an outbreak, conducting surveillance to monitor and control outbreaks, overseeing logistics, providing lab support, educating the public on how they can protect themselves during the emergency. This, in Hoffman's opinion, is where her Denison education and liberal arts problem-solving skills really stand out.
“We often work in high stress and low resource settings,” she explains. “I have to be flexible and adapt my technical skills to solve the problem in front of me — which is constantly changing.”
Even at her home base in Atlanta, Hoffman uses her integrative approach to help instruct other CDC employees’ in their emergency response style.
“When you're in the field, you don't always have the expertise with you that you need. So, I help to train staff in a variety of disciplines so that they can approach a situation from multiple perspectives,” says Hoffman.
Reflecting further, she adds, “I learned that at Denison.”