Student Spotlight: Emilio Bloch (Class of 2020)

photo of Emilio Bloch

  • honors senior double major in Biology and Public Health (Human Disease & Epidemiology)
  • minor in Global Health
  • from Copley, OH
  • participated in Winter Immersion Service Experience trip to Nashville, TN (January 2017)
  • travelled to The Gambia to study public health issues (Summer 2018)
  • conducts undergraduate research in a retina cell regeneration lab
  • member of Urban Cohort and future member of Peace Corps
"Especially if you're a first-year student, don't doubt yourself. Do what you feel like you should be doing and don't be afraid to try new things. Even if your major is hard at first, it usually gets a little easier, and if it doesn't, well, you can still change!"

Why Miami?

Emilio Bloch and Gambian children at the clinic in the rural village Haiaf where his group volunteered

"Miami is a great school that gave me a great scholarship. I told myself at the time, 'Well, this isn't exactly a bad situation!' After being here for three years, focusing on graduating in May, I have had plenty of positive experiences and am glad I chose Miami.

"The funny thing about the human disease & epidemiology program in Miami's public health major is that it didn't exist until I was a junior. Out of high school I wanted to study epidemiology and was kind of annoyed that Miami didn't have an epidemiology major, so when I started as a freshman I was a hardcore pre-med major — pretty straightfoward stuff. I figured I would get around to epidemiology once I got into grad school, but I was really happy when the major was developed here at Miami!

"Epidemiology is very stats-focused, but there's also a culture-focused side of epidemiology, which is becoming more relevant. This aspect is about putting things into a cultural context. It deals with things that come up in the news where traditional data-focused solutions don't necessarily work out. And that's where my minor in global health comes in."

Best Miami Experiences

"I have had a ton of great research-based experiences here at Miami. Since I was a sophomore I've been working with professor of biology Katia Del Rio-Tsonis in her retina cell regeneration lab for epigenetics. [Listen to Emilio discuss his research in the Major Insight podcast: 'Restoring Sight to the Blind'.] Even though I am in public health, which isn't necessarily focused on epigenetics and developments in biology, it's still really cool. How many people in the world can go into a lab and learn about cell transdifferentiation?

"Two of my advisors, John Clover from the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and Teresa Radomski-Bomba from the University Honors program, are both awesome people who have helped guide me along. Teresa is the one who told me about the public health and epidemiology program when it was established.

Emilio Bloch working in epigenetics lab

"I joined the Urban Cohort about a year ago, which has been great. I also took part in Miami's Global Health Case Competition in 2018. [See the February 2018 CAS press release Global health expert and Miami alum Judith Kaufmann to give keynote for Department of Anthropology's global health case competition.] My team won the competition and was sent to the international competition at Emory University. We were the only undergraduate team, and we competed against teams of grad students, PhDs, and law and medical students. It was a key experience in understanding global health.

"I'm planning to join the Peace Corps after graduation next August. My mom served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the Peace Corps for 3 years, and there's a kind of obligation in my family to spend some years of service to the world. The Peace Corps is also very relevant to a public/global health career, and I applied to become part of a project in Rwanda as a maternal health educator. I'll figure out what I want to do after that, but I do plan to go to grad school and get a cool job in public health. I will see where things go from there!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"The term 'interdisciplinary' is all over the place, but in public health, it is important to be interdisciplinary, simply because unless you have specialists telling you what to do, you have to have some relative knowledge of everything that's going on — statistics, cultural, administrative functions. I took some political science classes and an economics class, just because I thought it may be a good idea. Just having access to all of those different kinds of knowledge is pretty useful for an interdisciplinary field.

"Adaptability is important. It's hard to come by, but if you've got it then it feels pretty good. The different kinds of stuff I do include biology research, participating in the Urban Cohort to work with underprivileged kids in Cincinnati schools, and studying public health issues in the Gambia. My activities are all over the place, so gaining the ability to be adaptable — or learning that you are adaptable — is really valuable. Developing it helps you grow more confident and opens you up to new experiences."

Working on Public Health Issues in The Gambia

Miami students and faculty are joined by Bakary Yusuf (front row, right), a Gambian nurse who acted as their guide for parts of the trip, outside the National Museum of the Gambia.

"My career focus has always just been trying to help people in the way that best suits me, in whatever I am good at, and in the largest scale — which always changes! My ideal job would be to work for an international organization like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, perhaps as a public health specialist at a refugee camp or something else like that.

"One of my key experiences related to this goal was joining professor of kinesiology and health Helaine Alessio to The Gambia in West Africa on a special two-week study abroad trip in the summer of 2018. [See the September 2018 EHS press release An African Nation in Poverty Provides Important Perspectives on Public Health.] It was a nice trip because it involved a lot of interesting and meaningful work, but we also had a lot of freedom. We were allowed to explore the area after the day's scheduled activities and got to socialize with local Gambians. The majority of West Africa was under British and French rule until the 20th century, and going there I thought there would be new and interesting public health problems to examine and work on.

"One of these problems were the country's high maternal mortality rate. Our main mission was to get a direct understanding of public health and have various kinds of field experiences. For the first week, we met with different heads of organizations, such as the country's tertiary hospital, the local World Health Organization office and its Ministry of Health. During our discussions of different health topics, we learned The Gambia's culture, history, and politics have played a key role in its public health issues.

"For the second week, I served as an intern at a rural maternal hospital. Most of the time I was in the immunology clinic, working in a tiny room with a single nurse and an intern who had started there only a week ago.

"Despite The Gambia's health-based hardships and its recent period of political unrest, I didn't really feel much stress during those two weeks. We were there during the end of Ramadan, so it was interesting to see how Islam in West Africa is very different from the typical depictions of Islam in the U.S. Everything felt natural, and I really enjoyed being able to do something noble and meaningful."

Advice to Students

"Be open-minded and brave. If you think about taking a risk, think about why not — usually you'll find there's more reasons to do it than not. That's pretty much all of the reasons I got into my own experiences, and every single time they ended up pretty well. Especially if you're a first-year student, don't doubt yourself. Do what you feel like you should be doing and don't be afraid to try new things. Even if your major is hard at first, it usually gets a little easier, and if it doesn't, well, you can still change!

"Make sure that you are into things for the right reasons. You don't want to go into public health or global health studies because you see people who are born into distress simply as poor victims that can't help themselves. Public health is more about compassion and empathizing with the people you are trying to serve, so make sure you have that sense of humility. You're not in it for your own ego, and you're not looking for praise all the time!"

[September 2019]