Alumna Profile: Kristen Cross (C'13)

A double major in Environmental Sciences and Biology, Kristen Cross graduated in 2013 from Emory and has recently been accepted into medical school. As she embarks on her next step, she was gracious enough to share some of the experiences that made her time at Emory in the Department of Environmental Sciences meaningful.

1. How did you find your way to the ENVS department?
I didn't know what I wanted to study when I came to Emory, but I was drawn to the university by the interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts curriculum. For my freshman seminar, I took a class taught by Dr. Tony Martin titled Dinosaurs and their Environments. That was my first introduction to the ENVS department and I immediately was intrigued. I sought out more information about the ENVS degree from Stefanie Pierce (former coordinator of undergraduate programs), who recommended that I look into finding a research job within the department to get to know some faculty members and learn more about the program. She was the one who introduced me to Dr. Gillespie. 

2. What kind of work did you do in Professor Gillespie's lab?
I reached out to Dr. Gillespie based on Stefanie's recommendation and he was very welcoming and willing to take me on as a student despite my complete lack of experience in laboratory work. I started working in his parasitology laboratory for research credit in the ENVS department. There I learned the classical microscopy techniques for monitoring parasite species in endangered populations of Great Apes. Dr. Gillespie's work really appealed to me because of the broad-reaching applications of his research on wildlife conservation and public health. Once I had spent more time training in the  laboratory techniques, I was able to have independent projects and learn more about administrative duties of running a laboratory and all the groundwork that has to be laid down for a project to be developed and executed. 

3. Did you participate in an internship or study abroad while at Emory?
I worked my first two summers and the summer after my senior year in Dr. Gillespie's lab learning more techniques, training new students and managing projects. The summer after my junior year I received an IRES fellowship to do an internship at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin, Germany. It was an amazing experience that was made possible by Dr. Gillespie and his collaborator Dr. Fabian Leendertz, the IRES program at Emory and the ENVS department, who provided me with a Lester award to help me cover living costs while living abroad. At RKI, I received training in advanced molecular detection techniques for finding pathogen DNA in fecal samples from wild apes. I was able to screen samples from a very rare species of gorilla called the Cross-River Gorilla for a variety of zoonotic pathogens as an assessment of their overall health. I was then able to bring these techniques back to our laboratory at Emory so that we could do in-house screenings.  

4. How has your Emory experience prepared you for your next step?
Emory provides their students with so much faculty support. I was able to get career advice from people in many different fields and who spanned a large range of life experiences. It was through these connections that I found my current supervisor, Dr. Jonas Winchell. When I transitioned to working at the CDC, I felt very confident in my abilities because I had already been able to experience the work environment in the safe space of Emory. Emory gives its students a nice balance of supported independence. I did not feel like I was being coddled, but there was always help should I ever need it. 

5. What have you been doing since graduation?
I have been working at the CDC through a fellowship provided by the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL): the Emerging Infectious Disease Fellowship (EID). It is a one-year program that provides a stipend to its fellows as they work in either a CDC lab or a state public health lab. I work in the respiratory diseases branch, specifically working with design of detection mechanisms for atypical pneumonia pathogens. After my fellowship was up, I was hired on by the team and I will continue working until June until I leave for med school.

6. What is your favorite Emory tradition and what do you miss most about being on campus?
Emory's campus is so beautiful. I miss walking through the Quad on the way to class, or stopping for lunch outside Cox with friends. I miss Dooley's week and the concerts and speakers that they would bring to campus. Emory is just a wonderful environment to be in; all the professors were wonderful to talk to and I learned so much, not just academically, but also about the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. I definitely miss being on campus!