Peer-to-Alumni Profile: Amy O'Regan, '12

Interviewed by Bridget Aumais, '15

Amy O’Regan received her Bachelor’s degree in Public Health Sciences from UMass Amherst in 2012. She serves in Arkansas as a member of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Public Health Associate Program. Bridget Aumais, ’15, recently completed her junior year as a Public Health major and Public Health Peer Advisor.

Amy O’Regan graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health Sciences from UMass Amherst. While an undergraduate on the science track, she received certificates in Sustainable Food and Farming as well as Civic Engagement, and also participated in the Citizen’s Scholars Program.

Amy initially entered UMass Amherst as a pre-med student. While she admired the prestige that comes with being a medical doctor, she didn’t feel like that was a good enough reason to pursue that career goal. Unsure what to do, she arranged a meeting with Lynn Koerbel, the undergraduate public health program advisor at that time. Koerbel had given a compelling presentation about the public health major in one of Amy’s classes.

After meeting with Koerbel, she decided to give public health a try. What made her choose public health initially, and then earn her degree in it, was the field’s flexibility; students can pursue coursework ranging from the “hard” sciences to the social science end of the spectrum. Public health workers can deal with any type of disease or injury, and no matter what, they are helping people.

Upon graduation, Amy felt unsure what focus she wanted to pursue in public health. Then Lynn Koerbel once again timely intervened, this time with an email with information about the Center for Disease Control’s Public Health Associate Program. The two-year program places fellows with a local health department anywhere in the United States. The fellows work in two different focus areas, one each year, within that health department.

Amy applied and was ecstatic when she was accepted into the program. She was placed with the Arkansas Department of Health at a local county health unit. During her first year, she worked with an STD/HIV program as a disease intervention specialist. If anyone in her jurisdiction tested positive for HIV or Syphilis, it was her job to track them down, interview them for the names of their previous sexual partners, and then contact those people for testing and counseling.

“I loved the patient interaction during my year with the STD/HIV program,” she says. “I could put a face to the individuals I was helping.”

Now in her second year of the fellowship, Amy finds herself working in environmental health doing everything from soil tests to restaurant inspections to sampling water at a local swimming beach. Her work has provided her with two dramatically different experiences within public health, but the opportunity has given her an incredible amount of hands-on training in the field.

Amy believes her UMass education prepared her for her current fellowship in many ways. She would highly recommend the Citizen’s Scholars Program because it was through those courses that she learned a lot about social justice which enriched her public health education. One of the most influential people to her was Gloria DiFulvio, the Public Health Undergraduate Program Director, who taught some of her Citizen’s Scholars courses. She credits Gloria for teaching her how to think outside the box, see different perspectives, and set an example as an effective facilitator.

As a large university, UMass also offered many opportunities that helped to prepare her for life after graduation. Her advice to current students is to “just say yes!”

“When an opportunity comes your way, just say yes even if you don’t think it is exactly what you are interested in,” she says. “Saying yes will teach you to be a hard worker and how to relate to different types of situations. There is a learning experience, good or bad, in every opportunity that comes your way.”

Each day, she tries to bring the same motivation and excitement to her job that she had at the very beginning, because that excitement is what keeps her diligently doing her job and inspiring others that she works with to do the same.