Student Stories: Immunology major interns with the state

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For the average person, ignorance is bliss. But for Alyssa Patt, not knowing was not an option during her internship with the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

A senior with a major in immunology and infectious disease and another in toxicology, the Exton, Pa., native spent a summer examining pathogens and bacteria found in all kinds of places.

As a public health intern, Patt worked in the Division of Microbiology. She spent most of her time in the bioterrorism unit in Media and Field Investigation.

"I'm currently leaning towards being an infectious disease doctor, but I would like to do research as well," she said. "Working in this lab gave me exposure to patient specimen testing as well as epidemiology, which is crucial to infectious-disease work."

Patt tested food and water samples in the Field Investigation unit. In the Media unit, she learned how to process a specimen, identify the exact species of pathogen present in the sample and prepare the material or media necessary to culture the bacteria and conduct the test.

Throughout her internship, Patt worked on her own small side project that became popular among her co-workers. Before she started working in the lab, Patt studied abroad for three weeks in Beijing. She brought home water from her Chinese hotel room in a special bottle with a filter that trapped all pathogens down to 0.1 micrometers in size.

"I knew there was something in the water because, while we were in China, a few of us got sick from it," she said. "When I got home, I brought it into Field Investigation to test."

Co-workers who knew about the project frequently asked her if she had found anything yet. Eventually, she did.

"Let's just say you really don't want to drink some of the water in China if you didn't grow up over there," she said.

Interning in the state lab was ideal for Patt since she plans to work in the public health field in the future. Along with helping her overcome her insecurities about working in such a facility, her experience also provided her with an outstanding learning opportunity.

Currently, Patt is on track to graduate this spring and will start applying to medical school soon. She plans to work in a lab full time for a year after graduating before going to medical school.

For information about the immunology and infectious disease major

For information about the toxicology major.

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Last Updated October 17, 2013