Alumni Success Stories
Sonya Hughes was competitively selected and assigned to the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services (DCHHS) as a CDC Public Health Associate in 2008. When Sonya first discovered the Public Health Associate Program (PHAP), she was certain she wanted to be a part of it because it was a unique opportunity that allowed entry-level individuals with no prior public health experience to work at the frontlines of public health. She understood that this prestigious training program would provide her with hands-on work experience and extensive training at CDC and the local health department.
With a BA in Ethnic Studies and Pre-Medicine from the University of Texas at Austin, her year-one PHAP assignment was West Nile surveillance in the Epidemiology Division of DCHHS. Her responsibilities included case investigation and data analysis for all confirmed and probable cases in Dallas County. Sonya's year-two assignment was in HIV/STD disease intervention. She describes facets of this work as "an unforgettable experience." She also asserts that she went from being a timid individual to openly discussing sexual histories with people of all ages and backgrounds.
Sonya made several lasting contributions during her two-year tenure in PHAP. Among the more notable was her contribution to conducting a case control study with Dallas County's largest Cryptosporidium outbreak, which was presented at the 2009 American Public Health Association's annual meeting. She also played an integral part in the Dallas County response to H1N1 in 2009 by coordinating and contacting Dallas residents who may have been exposed to infected individuals. However, her most noteworthy accomplishment was leading the charge to graphically illustrate the increasing incidence rates of HIV to show the need for public health intervention. This work resulted in an overturn of a 13-year-old condom ban, allowing the Dallas County health officials to go beyond just testing, treating, and counseling HIV patients to now also distributing condoms.
After graduating from PHAP, Sonya accepted a full-time job as an epidemiologist at the San Antonio Health Department in September of 2010. "PHAP has been a great learning experience, and I feel very fortunate to have worked with such knowledgeable individuals," said Sonya. "Public health is such a diverse field, and I was given the opportunity to experience several aspects of it…without PHAP or DCHHS, I would have never gained the skills to be considered for this position."