Dual Disciplines: Combining Science and Spanish to Help Eradicate Disease

By Kevin Waida

Rebecca Hermann is no stranger to unique surroundings. The Environmental Health and Spanish double major has already been abroad to two

Rebecca Hermann, Senior in Environmental Health, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, August 24, 2016
Rebecca Hermann, Senior in Environmental Health, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, August 24, 2016

different countries during her collegiate career, and now is off on a new adventure: using her Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Columbia.

The journey for Hermann started with a trip to Chile. “(It) was a classic study abroad. I took classes, stayed with a host family. It was just a blast,” she said. Looking for a respite from the course load, Hermann also took a two-week hiking trip to Patagonia, which she described as “the most insanely beautiful place I have ever been.”

After her venture to Chile, she went to Honduras to participate in a research project on cookstove pollution, by monitoring the output of carbon monoxide and its effect on citizens that were using it. She stayed in a rural area with five other researchers, and their days often consisted of collecting data on the monoxide levels and then meeting with the citizens to discuss their findings. In between, they had to download all the data, which took up to four hours a day. “There was a lot of downtime,” Hermann says, “a lot of Netflix and board games.”

Now Rebecca looks towards her next journey of teaching English in Columbia. Winning a Fulbright scholarship is a big deal, but it was no surprise to those she’s worked with. “Skills can be taught, but a positive and hardworking disposition seem to be innate,” says Dr. Bonnie Young, postdoctoral research fellow in environmental and radiological health services, whose cookstove project Rebecca helped with. “Rebecca was an excellent team member, eager to help in any way, offering humor, rolling easily with challenging conditions, and remember the bigger picture of the work, which is to ultimately decrease household air pollution and improve people’s health.”

At the end of the 10-month experience in Columbia, Rebecca plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health, where she can expand on the wide amount of knowledge she has gained. After that, Rebecca wants to use the experience she has gained through her international journeys to fight disease around the world. “Environmental health teaches me to approach health issues with a broad holistic view and to focus on causes at the population level. After I graduate, I want to research vector-borne diseases, such as Zika, dengue, and yellow fever, to improve awareness and prevention in hard-hit areas, such as Latin America. My goal is to earn my Ph.D. in epidemiology and to improve global health, especially in response to epidemics that will be exacerbated by climate change,” Hermann says.

Part of the equation for Hermann’s success in her ventures abroad has been the training in Spanish she has received through her coursework at CSU. “It gives me a creative outlet outside of all the science,” Hermann notes. And because she spoke Spanish, Hermann was able to directly interact with the participants of the cookstove study, answering questions, offering support, and feeling connected. “When you learn a second language, it opens up doors that weren’t available before,” says Spanish professor Andrea Purdy, “you bring with you a culture and understanding of other people around the globe, it makes you a better citizen of the world.”

“She worked hard at the language because she knew that skillset could apply to her primary studies,” says Purdy.

Although there is one thing she says she wishes she would have studied a little more, “I wish I would have learned how to say, ‘what’s the WiFi password?’” says Hermann.