An alumnus of Champlin Park is making her mark in the world of public health. Dr Angie Ulrich, graduated from Champlin Park High School in 2005, is an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, which works to prevent disease and death from threats infectious diseases.
During her time as a rebel, Ulrich recalls taking a myriad of courses that would eventually prepare her for her current job: science, math, social studies, government, and public policy. “I am so grateful for the way [my teachers] have invested in me. I feel really lucky to have had this, “she said.” What I’m doing now combines the science of public health with politics. “
She also served on student council and was a member of the basketball and track teams, all of which she attributes to establishing a teamwork attitude that she now uses on a daily basis.
When she started her undergraduate studies at St. Olaf’s College, Ulrich wanted to get into medicine. She completed a month-long internship at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland as part of a study abroad program and discovered that she had a passion for something more specific; something that combines his love of medicine with his interest in math and statistics.
âI realized that public health is something I can do,â Ulrich said.
In his second year, Ulrich worked for the Anoka County Health Department and saw what public health looked like on a more microscopic level than the WHO. Then, after graduating from college, she moved to Seattle and volunteered with the Red Cross and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which featured the nonprofit side of public health. âThis is where I saw a career path in academic public health,â she said.
Ulrich eventually fell in love with the Seattle area and decided to apply to the Masters program at the University of Washington, where she received her Masters and PhD in Epidemiology. After graduating, her career path took her back to Minnesota, where she began working for the University of Minnesota’s Division of Epidemiology, specifically tasked with studying vaccines to prevent meningitis.
In December 2019, while still working on meningitis vaccines, Ulrich and his colleagues began hearing about a mysterious virus in China. âI remember thinking, ‘This might be interesting. We’re going to keep an eye on it and see what happens, âUlrich said.
For an epidemiologist like Ulrich, she expected it to be like the SARS or MERS viruses. A big problem yes, but which ends up extinguishing itself. âI think a lot of people expected this to happen,â she said.
But after the year-end vacation, the number of cases started to rise, rise and rise. âIt became clear to epidemiologists that COVID-19 would be a big deal,â Ulrich said. âI remember thinking, ‘once it starts to spread, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads around the world.’ “
So, in February 2020, his work on the meningitis vaccine was halted and Ulrich began working for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and their response to the pandemic. Over the past year and a half, Ulrich has worked on developing documents to help inform public policy responses in areas such as COVID-19 testing, the role of masks and other topics.
She also worked with Dr Michael Osterholm on a podcast called The Osterholm Update, a weekly report on the pandemic. While working from the comfort of her home, which she says presents some challenges. “It sure was tough,” Ulrich said. âThe benefits of science are brainstorming with people and you miss those organic convos and brainstorms when you’re at home. “
“DOING FOR THE GOOD OF THE PUBLIC”
“Twenty months ago, it seemed like no one knew what an epidemiologist was.” This is what Ulrich says about the transformation of his profession over the past year and a half.
Ulrich is specifically responsible for translating the work done in studies and laboratories into what it means to the public and to politicians. âWe don’t want all the work we do to be wasted,â Ulrich said. “Like something that is published but never used.”
Another big challenge Ulrich has seen over the past 20 months has been what she calls the “politicization of science”. Even though she acknowledged that politicization has happened for previous pandemics in history, being on the front lines for this one, at times, is fatigue. “
The politicization of science has been difficult to see, âUlrich said. âThe public health folks have worked so hard to do the right thing and keep people healthy. “
But when she feels weighed down, Ulrich remembers why she got into public health in the first place: to make a difference in people’s lives.
âI try to remember that I am doing it for the good of the public,â she said. “For me, it’s good to come back and know that I’m doing these things because they matter and they save lives.”
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