Campus News

Two epidemiology grads reflect on how UB training helped them excel

By DAVID J. HILL

Published February 5, 2019

This spring, the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health in the School of Public Health and Health Professions will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding in 1919 as the Department of Hygiene and Public Health.

Over the course of the past century, the department has trained a wealth of future epidemiologists who’ve gone on to excel in their careers. Here’s a look at two trainees who rose to the top of two of the nation’s most prominent organizations dedicated to epidemiologic research.

Portrait of Pauline Mendola.

Pauline Mendola

Pauline Mendola started out as a clerk in what is now the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health. From there, she became a part-time student, then earned her PhD and eventually served for a time as a faculty member in the department.

In the fall, Mendola wrapped up her tenure as president of the American College of Epidemiology.

Portrait of Enrique Schisterman.

Enrique Schisterman

Enrique Schisterman earned both his master’s in statistics (’95) and PhD in epidemiology (’99) from UB. He’s currently serving as president of the Society of Epidemiologic Research, a term that concludes in June.

For both, the training they received in epidemiology at UB helped chart their career paths as they rose to leadership ranks.

“I always appreciate the healthy start I got at UB,” Mendola recently told UBNow. She received her bachelor’s (’85), master’s (’90) and doctorate (’84) from UB. She credits her UB dissertation chair, Germaine Buck Louis, a UB EEH alumna who is now dean of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University, for inspiring her to serve and lead by example. “From my student days, she encouraged me to be active in professional organizations and facilitated my entry into committee work.”

Louis also encouraged Mendola to submit her dissertation work for society student prize papers, which gave Mendola an additional entry point into professional organization recognition. “I learned the importance and value of giving back to our profession at UB,” she said.

Louis urged Mendola to run for treasurer of the Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research (SPER) when she was a junior faculty member at UB. Louis, Mendola and Schisterman are all past presidents of SPER.

Mendola said it was “a great honor” to serve a three-year term (president-elect, president and past president) on the Executive Committee of the American College of Epidemiology, an organization of which Mendola has been a member since 1994. “Being engaged so closely in the function and mission of the organization — it is exciting to lead and try to leave the organization a bit healthier than when you arrive,” she said.

Mendola has served as an investigator at NIH in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Rockville, Maryland, since 2011. Before that, she was a branch chief for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Infant, Child and Women’s Health Statistics Branch in Hyattsville, Maryland.

Her research focuses on the impact of maternal chronic disease on pregnancy, with a focus on asthma and the immunology of pregnancy.

Schisterman also credited his epidemiology training at UB for helping him get to where he is today as senior investigator and chief of the epidemiology branch at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, where he’s been since 2002.

“My experience at UB was a very formative part of my career and has introduced me to lifelong collaborators,” he said. “UB has allowed me to truly harness my passion for epidemiologic research. I am unsure if I would have followed the path I am on if it were not for the experiences I had while at Buffalo.”

As president of the Society for Epidemiologic Research (SER), Schisterman, who was born in Bueno Aires, Argentina, has developed several new initiatives, including a podcast, “Epidemiology Counts,” which was to air its first episode at the end of January, and a program aimed at increasing diversity in SER.

“It is a privilege to be elected to serve in this role and help shape the future of this society,” Schisterman said.

Extra credit

Here’s what Mendola and Schisterman each had to say when asked what advice they’d give to young epidemiologists.

Mendola: “Get involved! There are lots of great opportunities to meet people in the field when you engage with your professional organizations. Most now have student and junior faculty special sections as well.”

Schisterman: “Remember the purpose of your research, what is it trying to understand and how that understanding can help future practices. Always remember the big picture. Always get involved. At SER there are many networking opportunities and every person you network with can be a potential resource for collaboration in the future. My work has undoubtedly benefited from making connections with people from different disciplines and with differing perspectives. It has allowed me to think about my own research in a new and more dimensional light.”

Fun fact: The epidemiology department at UB has undergone three name changes since its original one. Here’s a look at the department’s history by name:

1919-46: Hygiene and Public Health

1946-67: Preventive Medicine and Public Health

1967-2014: Social and Preventive Medicine

2014-present: Epidemiology and Environmental Health