Since arriving on campus two years ago, Jacquelyne Abe ’24 has enjoyed a transformative Hollins experience.
She has embraced two majors she never considered before coming to the university, and they have sparked her interest in becoming, in the parlance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a “disease detective.” She just completed a summer internship with the government agency responsible for collecting and measuring data on Virginia’s healthcare workforce, and this fall at a prestigious conference, she will present a paper based on research she conducted during that internship.
Jacquelyne hails from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, and her academic odyssey began in high school when, through the U.S. Embassy in the city of Abidjan, she connected with EducationUSA. The network, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides guidance on accredited American colleges and universities to prospective students in more than 175 countries. An EducationUSA representative “thought a women’s college would be perfect for me,” she said. “She knew that I liked family and being close to people, and she believed I would thrive in that setting over a big university.”
After doing some exploration, Jacquelyne chose to apply to Hollins and was accepted. During her first year, she discovered and “fell in love with public health,” and then was pleasantly surprised to learn that “I could double major in the U.S. So, I decided to see what else I could be doing.” Ultimately, she realized that environmental science and public health would be “the perfect combination for me.”
While the EducationUSA network encouraged her to pursue a women’s college, the Hollins alumnae network helped lead Jacquelyne to the summer internship that would have a profound impact on her academic and career development. Through Rebecca Smith ’04, a senior adjudication specialist with the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP), Assistant Professor of Public Health Abubakarr Jalloh learned of an opportunity with the DHP’s Healthcare Workforce Data Center. Located in Henrico, DHP licenses and regulates over 380,000 healthcare practitioners across 62 professions in the commonwealth, and the Healthcare Workforce Data Center regularly assesses workforce supply and demand issues among those licensed practitioners.
When Jalloh shared the internship with a class she was taking last semester, Jacquelyne said she “thought it sounded really interesting and I wanted to dive into it. I needed to find out if this was something that would be good for me and my future career. It was time for me to experience something instead of just thinking I might like it.”
Supervised by Yetty Shobo, director of the Healthcare Workforce Data Center, Jacquelyne immersed herself in multiple projects over 10 weeks, most notably the dashboard tools that, according to the center, “inform students, policymakers, program designers, healthcare practitioners, and the general public about issues related to Virginia’s healthcare workforce.” During Jacquelyne’s internship, the center received a data request from Shillpa Naavaal, a board-certified dental public health and health services researcher with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Philips Institute for Oral Health Research.
“Dr. Naavaal was interested in seeing how the oral healthcare workforce evolved from 2013 to 2021, and I researched the data and prepared graphs,” Jacquelyne explained. “We saw significant disparities in race and gender, issues that needed to be addressed in order to achieve better health outcomes.”
Shobo was so impressed with Jacquelyne’s work that she encouraged her submit an abstract to the Southern Demographic Association (SDA), a scientific and educational organization composed of demography and population studies professionals. The SDA accepted Jacquelyne’s abstract, “Uncovering Racial/Ethnic Gaps in a State Oral Healthcare Workforce,” for presentation at the 2022 SDA Annual Meeting, which will be held October 17-19 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jacquelyne is excited to represent Hollins at the conference and see her project showcased. But she is equally proud of what else she has gained through her summer internship. “It helped me improve my skills and enabled me to grow as a person. I made a lot of mistakes, but Dr. Shobo said, ‘That’s okay, we’re here to learn from each other.’ And I thought, ‘You have a Ph.D. and I haven’t even graduated from college, and you say you want to learn from me?’ Her humility taught me to be humble, to understand that you don’t have to know everything. You just have to put your heart in what you do.”
This year, Jacquelyne is hoping to participate in “Ecuador: A Bio-cultural Journey on the Equator,” a January Short Term course that will offer Hollins students the chance to spend two weeks immersing themselves in one of the most biologically and culturally rich countries on Earth. She is confident that exploring the biological and cultural diversity of the Andean highlands and the Amazon jungle will further prepare her to pursue a Master of Science degree in epidemiology, “the science part of public health,” after she finishes her undergraduate career.
“I really see myself doing something in research and looking at the distribution of a disease across a population. I want to find out what happened and why so you can address the problem and prevent new incidences.” Still, as she demonstrated when she first enrolled at Hollins, Jacquelyne is leaving the door open to other possibilities.
“For my future career I can do anything I want, and if I change my mind tomorrow, I know it’s okay. I just have to put in the work and believe in myself.”