May 10, 2011
ATLANTA -- Six Georgia State University College of Law students are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this spring semester. Their backgrounds, the work they do, and the paths they took to get to the CDC vary widely: one has a journalism background, another is a concert violinist, three hold master's degrees, and one has a Ph.D. in genetics.
For three of the students, the connections they made through Georgia State Law were critical to their landing their current positions at the CDC. Second-year law student Jane "Danny" Vincent is working in the CDC branch of the HHS Office of the General Counsel through the law school's externship program.
"Getting into the CDC is tough," said Vincent. "I've been around public health people for seven years, and most of them started at the CDC as contractors. The College of Law has a great relationship with the CDC's general counsel's office through the externship program."
As an extern, Vincent works directly with other attorneys. Her work is more typical of a general law office practice than may be experienced by other law students or other lawyers who work in other CDC divisions in policy-related or other positions.
"I am assisting the senior attorneys on their projects," said Vincent. "The biggest project I had when I started was preparing for an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission hearing defending the agency against an employment discrimination claim. I have assisted with interviewing witnesses, read depositions, and reviewed the independent investigator's report. I've also been involved in research projects looking at state laws."
Third-year law student Abigail Ferrell began working with the CDC's Public Health Law Program in the summer of 2010, after Georgia State graduate Rebecca Polinsky, JD 2007, got to know her through the HeLP Legal Services Clinic and encouraged her to apply. After the summer internship, Ferrell was invited to remain in the program as an ORISE Research Fellow. With a journalism background, she is the principal researcher and writer for the CDC's Public Health Law News, a Web-based publication with over 35,000 subscribers.
"The health law program at Georgia State is an incredible asset to any student interested in pursuing a health law career," said Ferrell. "It's an asset both for its great variety of courses and the professors' expertise, as well as for the wide health law community that it fosters. Without our health law program, I would not be working at the CDC."
A professional violinist before coming to law school, third-year law student Raymond Lindholm was encouraged to apply for a 2010 summer internship with the CDC by Lindsay Culp, JD 2010, who had been a fellow classmate in the law school's Health Legislation & Advocacy class and who is now a full-time CDC employee working in the Public Health Law Program (PHLP).
Lindholm was hired to work on an interdisciplinary collaboration between the PHLP and the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Undertaking a comprehensive 50-state survey of state drug laws, he investigated state responses to the recent sharp rise in prescription drug poisoning and overdose rates. Lindholm was asked to continue as an ORISE Research Fellow through his last year of law school.
Lindholm's research and writing has had a tangible impact at the CDC.
"I helped author an article on seven strategic approaches to prescription drug abuses which will be submitted for publication this year," he said. "I am also presenting a poster on this topic at the Safe States Conference in Iowa this April."
Most of Lindholm's work is directly related to the law, and he has learned a great deal about the differences between legal research and writing for legal journals and scientific writing for science journals. "I enjoy learning about interesting public health issues in an interdisciplinary environment," he explained, "and also being able simultaneously to apply and build my legal analysis and research skills."
While these three students found their way to the CDC through connections made at Georgia State Law, the other law students were already full-time employees at the CDC before enrolling in law school.
Third-year law student Jenny Sewell, who is enrolled in the law school's part-time program while working as a full-time Public Health Analyst in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, has been with the CDC since 2005. Prior to joining the CDC, Sewell worked for four years as a health policy analyst for the Council of State Governments, a nonprofit, membership organization serving elected and appointed state officials.
During that time, she also completed a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from the University of Kentucky. Sewell analyzes policy and program approaches to inform decision-making and resource allocation. She also monitors and analyzes state and federal legislative and administrative actions affecting public health issues.
In her career at the CDC, Sewell uses both her MPA background and the legal skills she has learned while earning her JD degree.
"My work requires knowledge of the roles that the executive branch and Congress play in directing agency activities," Sewell explained. "Classes like administrative law, where we studied the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Freedom of Information Act, are very relevant to the work I do. I also use the non-legal skills I learned in getting my master's, such as strategic planning and organizational theory, and my knowledge of public health learned while at the CDC."
Fellow third-year law student Donald Prather also goes to law school part time while working a full-time job as a Scientific Marketing Specialist and one of two intellectual property licensing associates at the CDC.
"Primarily, I negotiate patent licenses with biotechnology companies for patented and unpatented CDC technologies," said Prather. "I use my legal training when I negotiate IP licenses, because it helps me understand certain clauses and which ones are negotiable. I also use my legal skills to analyze licensing issues when there's some case law or when I need to address a patent infringement issue."
Prather holds a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University. He says the most important part of his job is business and sales - the marketing of intellectual property.
"I consider my job to be one-third law, one-third business, and one-third science," he said. "While it is not the classic 'public health law' side of CDC, it is definitely the practice of intellectual property law within the federal government."
While Prather brings a unique set of IP skills to the CDC, he likes being part of an overall public health agency. "I love the overall mission of public health and belonging to an organization that promotes health on a global scale," he said.
Third-year law student Caroline Lagoy Sirhal, who is also enrolled in the law school's part-time program, is a Public Health Analyst, having received a Master of Public Health degree in epidemiology from the University of Michigan in 2004. She works full time in the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Legislation in the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
"My team is the coordination point for promoting the Center's priorities on chronic disease prevention and control," said Sirhal. "While I'm not drafting motions or briefs, a lot of the work I do involves my legal skills, such as analyzing a multitude of laws, including legislation and regulations."
As a policy analyst, Sirhal gets to see her work play out on the real-world stage.
"I get a kick out of hearing about things that I have worked on in the news," she said. "For example, I was in the Office of the Chief of Staff working on flu in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic. It was all flu, all the time. My husband and I traveled to Ireland for Christmas, and we saw CDC flyers and brochures in the airports and public areas in Europe. It made me realize that CDC truly has a global impact."
Law students who want to work with the CDC after graduation should consider applying for one of the federal government's leadership-development fellowship programs. Sirhal joined the CDC as a Presidential Management Fellow.
"PMF is one of the easiest ways to be hired into the government," said Sirhal. "The CDC has a very strong network of PMF alumni from which to draw advice and opportunities for growth and advancement."
Sewell initially joined the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the Emerging Leader Program, another two-year fellowship program. "In my first year with HHS, I rotated through a number of offices to learn about the Department as well as gain communication and leadership skills," said Sewell. "When my rotations ended, I started full time with the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health."
Despite their different backgrounds and work responsibilities, the law students all agree that their law school experiences have been valuable for their work with the CDC.
"When I came to interview at the Public Health Law Program, then-Director Tony Moulton told me how incredibly impressed he and his colleagues have been with Georgia State law students," said Lindholm. "In addition to helping me get my foot in the door at the CDC, the GSU health law program has developed my skills and given me experiences that have helped me understand and excel in the public health work we are doing at the CDC."
For more information about the Presidential Management Fellowship program, see http://www.pmf.gov/.
For more information about the HHS Emerging Leader program, see http://hhsu.learning.hhs.gov/elp/.
Director of Communications