Hi, my name is Alyssa Sbarra and I am a 2012 graduate of Bel Air High School and PLTW’s Biomedical Sciences Program. I graduated from Villanova University with a BS in mathematics, and currently am a MPH candidate at the Yale School of Public Health. My concentration is in infectious disease epidemiology and my research focuses on the surveillance and modeling of respiratory and hospital-based infections, specifically at the intersection of epidemiology, policy, and emergency preparedness.
I love learning, and I truly believe that this inherent desire to learn inside of me was first cultivated during my time in the Biomed program at BAHS. Students in the Biomed program are constantly being prompted to ask challenging questions. Very few times answers were given to us, but instead we were encouraged to investigate for ourselves. Not only did this technique nudge me to enjoy the research process but also give me faith in myself that I was capable of synthesizing materials and generating innovative solutions. During my PTLW courses, I felt empowered that the work that we were doing had the potential to one day mean something greater than just a classroom exercise. Designing experiments, using new technology, and developing my own ideas gave me confidence that was visibly translated into my other classes.
Even now, I feel a difference compared to my peers at Yale. While there is plenty of stress and the occasional bout of insecurity that accompanies graduate school at an ivy league institution, I know that I cannot only accomplish what ever tasks that lay in front of me but also hold myself to a higher standard and find more enjoyment in the process than the rest of my classmates. I love my classes. If there were extra time in the day or week, I would fill it with hours and hours additionally diving into the material that is presented in lecture. I would spend double or triple the time working on my research and collaborating with more professors and other graduate students. The thirst for knowledge and the love and passion that I have for the work that I am doing began over 8 years ago at BAHS in the Biomed program. The joy and passion that the Biomed program is able to spark in students is truly unique and is one of the most valuable assets that I keep with me to this day.
Something else that the Biomed program was able to provide at such a young age was exposure to many facets of health care and biomedical research. I know some of my classmates from the program are EMTs, applying to medical schools, and working in laboratories, both in hospitals and in other academic institutions. So few young people get the opportunity to see and explore what they truly enjoy before even graduating from high school. This is an incredibly special experience that should continue to be fostered in such a rich learning environment.
Another huge benefit to the exposure that the Biomed program provides is the appreciation for interdisciplinary work. Entering college and now graduate school, I feel so lucky and prepared from the exposures that PLTW was able to provide. Public health is extremely and inherently interdisciplinary, requiring knowledge about biology, mathematics and statistics, sociology, anthropology, and policy, among many others. In every single one of the five courses I am currently taking, we are drawing from ideas in immunology, various social phenomenon, and statistical analysis all at the same time. Without the Biomed program allowing me the chance to hear and see different perspectives and appreciate that all of them can be relevant to the solution of many health care associated problems, I may have not been as inclined as I was to enter into the field of public health or even to have spent my undergraduate career studying mathematics. However, having the perspectives from BAHS and the Biomed program, I was able to draw on these innovative concepts during my time at Villanova.
As a mathematics student who was still in her time of undergraduate education, I was providing valuable contributions to the Division of Disease Control of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, writing annual reports for the epidemiology unit as well as being a vital component of the 2015 World Meeting of Families Papal Visit emergency preparedness team. All because of some quantitative skills and the interest to work in an interdisciplinary setting, doors were open to so many incredible opportunities. Doors that have lead me to where I am today, preparing to run a meeting this upcoming week with the Emerging Infections Program of the CDC where I will pitch my own research and put a newly designed seasonal influenza surveillance system into action. The first door that started it all? The Biomed program at BAHS.