The Young Epidemiology Scholars Program announced the winners of
this year’s competition in April 2011(see Epi Monitor April,
2011). Several of the judges were contacted by The Epi Monitor to
ask for their assessments of the program, now entering its 9th
year of operation. Below are excerpts of the comments we received
from West Virginia University’s Ian Rockett, the University
of California Berkeley’s Lee Riley, the University of
Southern California’s Jonathan Samet, the University of
Puerto Rico’s Jose Cordero, and the CDC’s Ralph Cordell
and Denise Koo.
“The 2010-11 YES Competition was imbued with all of the
anticipation and excitement of prior competitions. Believe me, the
judges were also infected as always.
To be expected, many students researched topics from their
everyday lives, such as the health effects of texting, consuming
energy drinks, skipping meals, cheerleading, and smoking hookah.
"One of the two top student winners literally exemplified
shoe-leather epidemiology by investigating the relative injury
risks associated with running barefoot versus in shoes and
transitioning between the two."
Illustrating the hazards of epidemiologic prediction, I do
continue to be surprised with the paucity of case-control studies.
This research design would seem to lend itself nicely to a
seriously time-constrained project, while presenting students with
numerous and rich opportunities. That said, there is no question
that the general degree of sophistication of projects has
increased markedly since the inception of YES in 2004. The best
projects were always excellent, but now there is a far greater
depth of high-quality ones. Among markers for this transformation
are proportionally more publishable papers and student
affiliations with universities and other research institutions,
including NIH. The presenters are also reflecting ever greater
poise and self-assurance in their presentations.”
Successes of past students speaks volumes about the quality of the
“My feeling is that this program really needs to be continued. It
has finally reached a stage where the impact of the program is
just beginning to be felt and it will be a shame for this impact
to be abruptly interrupted. Because of this program, there are
many college and post-graduate students who are beginning to
launch a career in epidemiology and public health. This was one
of the goals of the YES program--to fill a gap in the US of
professionals trained in epidemiology to address many of our
nation's health problems at the population level. The program has
clearly shown that it can do this by the approach it has
developed. The Intel Science Fair program encourages high school
students to enter a career in science and it has been highly
successful. In fact, it's programs like this that keep the US
ahead in innovation in science. YES can do the same with
“I have been a judge from the outset and have returned every year
because of the very interesting work done by the participants.
Every year, there are a few remarkably creative projects and the
participants are already on very productive trajectories. Perhaps
the major failing of the program is that the participants, not
surprisingly, come from leading high schools with motivated
teachers. It would be great if there were a more diverse pipeline
of participating schools, a goal shared by RWJ, I suspect.”
Being a judge at the YES competition
gives me great hope for the future of public health in America.
Seeing so many talented young students learning what epidemiology
and public health can do to improve the lives of people is heart
Even better that many are choosing a
career in public health. It is the best sign that this is a very
important program for the Nation. We need programs like YES that
inspire high school students to see the public health challenges
in their community, generate key questions, seek advice, and
conduct studies to answer their questions. In the process, they
may find new answers to the problems we face and discover what a
career in public health can be.
One example is a Scholar who was
concerned with the suicides and suicide attempts in her high
school. She designed a study to find out the risk factors and in
the process discovered a new way students were harming themselves
that required a new approach to be addressed and prevented.
YES is unleashing the imagination of
our young students in America and bringing them into the realm of
epidemiology and public health.
“YES brings epidemiology to the forefront of math and science
education, providing students the opportunity to learn the skills
epidemiologists utilize in public health. Those of us at CDC who
have participated as YES judges are glad to contribute to the
success of the program. Bringing the YES winners to CDC allows us
to introduce these young people to CDC and encourage them to
consider public health as a career opportunity.”
have enjoyed being a YES judge each year for the past 8 years.
Over that time, I have been delighted to find the focus of YES
finalists increasingly centered on health issues relevant to their
age group. These presentations provide a window into the issues
important to them personally, and unsurprisingly, have been the
most compelling. And the poise with which they answer questions
from us judges is astounding.
YES has had a long lasting impact on the competitors; now they
have been deliberately introduced to the excitement of
epidemiology and public health, and many of them are choosing
public health as a career. Today's generations are interested in
doing good and making a difference, and they find that this field
fulfills such interests. This is so exciting to introduce them
early to public health, given that so many of our generation found
public health only by chance at later stages of our careers.
What has most impressed me are the YES winners who have gone
beyond the contest to ensure implementation of their findings.
Several have kept in touch with me with questions about public
health careers or ideas for how they could get internships.