Western alum and Fulbright-Fogarty scholar seeks to study zoonotic diseases

Megan Peck was first drawn to Western the same way many students before and after her have been: the beautiful mountains surrounding the Gunnison Valley and the opportunity to hit the slopes right after class. However, Peck also earned the educational foundation she needed to assist in the life-changing work she is currently doing as a Fulbright-Fogarty scholar. 

For the past few years, Peck has lived and worked in different low and middle income countries across the globe researching zoonotic diseases, diseases that are spread from animals to humans. In the communities she has lived in, Peck observed that the main source of livelihood is animal husbandry which, when done poorly, increases the chance of disease.  "Often households live in very close contact with their animals, putting them at an increased risk of zoonotic diseases such as brucellosis." Peck explained.  Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that spreads through human contact with infected animals. The infection is one of the most common zoonotic disease, but is often misdiagnosed and generally receives very little attention. 

Peck currently resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where brucellosis has recently reappeared after 30 years. The sudden outbreak in Thailand prompted Peck to take her research to the country for a better understanding of the human determinants and environmental factors of not just brucellosis, but zoonotic diseases as a whole.  "My hope is that my research will inform brucellosis and other zoonotic disease prevention and control initiatives not just in Thiland, but other countries facing similar issues."

Her research is being done with the help of the Fulbright-Fogarty Fellowship, an international educational exchange program built for medical graduate students to promote the expansion of research in public health and clinical research in resource-limited settings.  For Peck, the fellowship offers mentorship that will help her navigate the challenges of beginning a new researcher in an inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural setting.  Peck has also worked on infectious disease research and public health projects in Kigali, Rwanda with the Rwandan Ministry of Health. 

Peck earned a Master's degree in Public Health in Community Health Education from the University of Minnesota and a PhD in Environmental Health from the University of Minnesota School of Public health.  Despite her continuing education, Peck still credits her interest on how social structures and systems influence the spread of infectious diseases to Western, where she majored in Sociology.  Adding that the small class sizes and the passionate professors allowed her to excel the most.   "Small class sizes at Western not only impacts the time that teachers can devote to helping individual students, but also the students opportunity to engage in meaningful dialog," said Peck. "Western provided me with the support I needed to learn and discover my passions." 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - 10:15am