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Feature Stories

The following stories demonstrate some of the real-world impacts the CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship has on educators, students, and communities.

First-ever Sarah Luna Memorial Scholarship Awarded to Alaskan Educator
Close up photo of the Sarah Luna Science Ambassador Memorial Scholarship winner, Cheryl Williams

Cheryl Williams, MS, Science Ambassador Fellow

Sarah Luna, PhD, served as a CDC disease detective in the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) and the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) from 2016 to 2018. Sarah continued her commitment to service and public health as a senior epidemiologist with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The consortium is a non-profit tribal health organization focused on the unique health needs of Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Alaska. Sarah died tragically when her plane crashed while traveling to a rural health clinic in Alaska as part of her duties in 2019. The Sarah Luna Memorial Science Ambassador Scholarship was established with the help of her family, EIS classmates, and the EIS program to honor her spirit and commitment to the health and well-being of Native peoples. The Sarah Luna Memorial Science Ambassador Scholarship will sponsor middle and high school Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) teachers from Alaska who serve Alaska Native and American Indian students living in Alaska to participate in the CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship program.

CDC and the CDC Foundation are honored to present the inaugural Sarah Luna Memorial Scholarship to Cheryl Williams. Cheryl has taught high school science in the Matanuska Susitna Borough School District in Alaska for over 24 years. A dedicated educator with expertise in a full range of sciences, Cheryl currently teaches biology and environmental science. She enjoys finding professional development opportunities for her students, like the GLOBE program and the University of Montana’s Research Education on Air and Cardiovascular Health Program. Throughout her career, Cheryl has been awarded over $50,000 in grants. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cheryl has found it valuable to help her students understand the importance of epidemiology and public health at global, national, state and community levels.

To be eligible for the Sarah Luna Memorial Scholarship, STEM teachers must meet the eligibility criteria for the CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship and teach in a school or program that serves middle or high school aged Alaska Native or American Indian youth living in Alaska. We encourage teachers who are interested in teaching epidemiology and public health, inspiring students to pursue public health careers, and being an ambassador to other teachers who serve Alaskan communities to apply to the CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship. Applications are open annually from November 15–January 15. Information on how to apply for the Scholarship will be provided to eligible applicants.

If you are interested in learning more about the Sarah Luna Memorial Scholarship, please contact

Alumnus Develops Pandemic Simulation to Train Future Disease Detectives
Dr. ​Todd Brown

Operation Outbreak is a great way to get kids engaged in learning about public health. The pioneer behind this timely mobile app, Todd Brown, PhD, MA, is an outreach director at Sarasota Military Academy Prep and an alumnus of CDC’s Science Ambassador Fellowship (Class of 2019).

As a Science Ambassador fellow, Todd adopted strategies for weaving epidemiology and public health concepts into the STEM classroom. He collaborated with CDC experts and other fellows to develop a STEM lesson plan focused on disease transmission. Todd’s enthusiasm, existing and new skills converged as he aimed for innovative education. During his fellowship, Todd piloted a mobile app-based activity called Operation Outbreak in partnership with Dr. Pardis Sabeti and Dr. Andres Colubri from the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Through a mobile app platform, Operation Outbreak simulates a transmission of an airborne pathogen using Bluetooth technology on participating mobile phones. Participating students were partitioned to serve key roles in government, public health, medicine, the military, and the media. Students found themselves scrambling to adapt and work together in the midst of the simulated pandemic experience. Operation Outbreak was slated to run several more in-person courses in 2020, until an actual pandemic canceled those plans. “The coronavirus is a wake-up call,” he said. “We have to be ready for this kind of stuff.”

Learn more about Operation Outbreak simulations and student experiences highlighted in the following news stories:

  • Operation Outbreak is featured in New York TimesSchools During Coronavirus series as an example of how educators are teaching epidemiology and preparing students for the next pandemic (January 25, 2021).
  • The feature story in Your Observer chronicles the stories and experiences of educators and students who took part in Operation Outbreak’s first ever in-person simulation (December 12, 2019).
Good Morning America Features EMT Graduates, Taught by a CDC Science Ambassador
Sal Puglisi, UAESEM Emergency Management instructor and 2019 CDC Science Ambassador, pictured second from left in back row with colleagues and students.

Sal Puglisi, UAESEM Emergency Management instructor and 2019 CDC Science Ambassador, pictured second from left in back row with colleagues and students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed in-person events, including graduation ceremonies. The pandemic didn’t stop the 2020 class of the Urban Assembly School of Emergency Management from marking their special day with a virtual celebration on Good Morning America. Of the 58 graduating seniors at UASEM in New York City, 29 are certified emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and eager to begin supporting their communities as newly fledged EMTs. Emergency Management educator Sal Puglisi drew upon the network and training he’s received from the CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship to keep his students on track while integrating timely public health concepts into his virtual lessons.

In 2019, Puglisi joined 29 other educators to complete CDC’s Science Ambassador training program. The program gets educators involved in designing interactive curriculum on public health topics for middle and high school students. Educators from Puglisi’s CDC Science Ambassador cohort reached out to one another and found ways to collaborate and further enrich their students’ learning amid the pandemic. Students simulated responses to disease outbreaks, wrote public service announcements, and held a virtual discussion of the global impacts of COVID-19 with fellow CDC Science Ambassador educator Kathleen Mahoney, an epidemiology teacher in Shanghai, China. This collaborative effort was reported on in the NY Daily News and in this video compilation. On Good Morning America, Puglisi praised his students’ resilience and dedication to learning during challenging times. The graduates’ exposure to public health through Puglisi’s class makes their skillset even more unique and relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about UASEM and the Class of 2020 on the school’s website.

Biomedical Science High School Teacher Develops Public Health Curriculum
Seth Manthey

Seth Manthey, PhD, a 2019 CDC Science Ambassador fellow and teacher of Biomedical Science at Chelan High School in Chelan, Washington, focuses on revealing the mysteries behind science and medicine. Drawing from his experiences during the 2019 CDC Science Ambassador summer course in Atlanta, Georgia, Seth created an interactive curriculum that allows his students to apply their biomedical knowledge to real-world public health scenarios. Seth was also inspired by the CDC David J. Sencer CDC Museum and the Steven B. Thacker CDC Library tours during the course to create unique resources for his students. For example, he developed a permanent display and library for his classroom, pictured above and discussed in a radio interview by his local station, KOZI community radio. The painting pictured on the left is a Bacteriophage and on the right is HIV. These types of resources offer students an opportunity to engage with material beyond the lessons Seth is teaching. To share his experience and success with bringing public health to his classroom with other teachers, Seth will serve as a peer leader for the 2020 Science Ambassador Fellowship. Peer leaders serve as mentors to new fellows for 1-year as they begin teaching public health in their classroom.

High School Teacher Inspires Students’ Community Partnership
Teacher showing a book to students seated at a table.

Ryan Lacson, MS, is a high school biology teacher at Galena High School in rural Missouri. Drawing from what he learned during his time as a 2017 CDC Science Ambassador fellow, Ryan teamed up with his county health department to design a Biology for Public Health course combining the county’s most pressing public health issues. In 2019, his students partnered with a local community organization to train the high school in teen mental health first aid, leading to six additional area schools hosting the training.

Read Ryan’s testimonial about his Science Ambassador Fellowship experience.