International Education Week: Stories of Diversity from UF’s Environmental and Global Health Department

As the University of Florida’s Department of Environmental and Global Health in the College of Public Health and Health Professions celebrates International Education Week from November 13-17, its students and faculty are reminded of the importance of fostering a diverse and inclusive community. 

33-year-old Soung Iballa Francklin Brice from Cameroon, Africa, made the decision to pursue his Ph.D. in One Health because of its promise of exceptional research prospects and laboratories.

Soung brings an extensive background in public health emergency response and operational research in humanitarian contexts from his work experience with Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF in Africa. Some infectious diseases Soung has experience working on include, Ebola Viral Disease, cholera, malaria, COVID-19 and vaccine-preventable diseases. 

He also holds a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a master’s degree in epidemiology and public health from the University of Dschang in Cameroon. 

The third-year Ph.D. student now works in Dr. Afsar Ali’s lab at the Emerging Pathogens Institute to understand the drivers of cholera outbreaks. Meanwhile, Soung is receiving multidisciplinary training in molecular microbiology, bioinformatics, epidemiology, biostatistics and mathematical modeling to understand why and when outbreaks occur.

Soung studies at the Emerging Pathogens Institute under the guidance of Dr. Ali.

“Every time I acquire a knowledge or skill, I immediately think about how helpful it will be for the people around me,” he said.

Alongside his classmates, friends and professors, Soung said he has found solace in a multicultural community that welcomed him with open arms.

Looking forward, Soung hopes to either join organizations working in the field of disease prevention and control or pursue a career in academia to pass on the skills he has learned.

“The spread of infectious diseases really confirms that the world is a small village with administrative borders,” he said. “I hope I can lessen the burden of infectious diseases, especially among underserved communities around the world.”

EGH Academic Program Specialist Victoria Houghton often acts as the first point of contact for international students, assisting them with housing, transportation, advising appointments and new hire paperwork.

To Houghton, the meshing of American and international students introduces a stronger, more holistic student body that aligns with the department’s ethos.

“We are the Department of Environmental and Global Health—our name speaks to itself,” she said. “We should have collaborators and students from all over the world, and the international students can offer a new perspective.”

24-year-old Xue Wu journeyed from Wuhan, China, to Gainesville, Florida, to pursue her Ph.D. in Environmental Health. 

Wu previously spent five years completing her bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine in China before stumbling upon Dr. Zhoumeng Lin’s lab website. 

After meeting with Dr. Lin online, she was determined to join his lab and learn more about its focus on computational modeling in veterinary medicine. 

“I was very intrigued, and I told myself that I want to see a bigger world,” she said.

Teeming with nerves, fear and excitement, Wu packed her bags and moved nearly 8,000 miles to Gainesville.

Moving to the U.S. opened her eyes to new disciplines of approaching veterinary research, as teaching in China is much more traditional and standardized, she said.

Moreover, Wu initially found it frustrating to overcome language barriers despite having a solid foundation in English. However, with the help of her classmates, professors and fellow friends, Wu has grown rapidly both in her proficiency and confidence. 

Now, the second-year student uses PBPK modeling for detecting drug residue in livestock and other food-producing animals to ensure its levels are at a safe dose for human consumption.

Xue Wu joined Dr. Lin’s lab because she was particularly interested in developing her programming skills. 

In the future, Wu aspires to continue her research on reducing drug residue in animals to address larger issues of veterinary public health around the world.

One of the experiences Wu has cherished the most during her time at UF is finding common ground with other students from diverse upbringings.

“We have different ages, educational backgrounds and life experiences, but we can learn from each other,” she said. “And I think that’s a really good thing for me.”