Colleen Shelly '14
Colleen Shelly '14 takes a break from her graduate studies abroad in France. Photo by submitted

Why did you choose to go to graduate school abroad?

During the fall of my junior year at Knox, I chose to study abroad in London. It had a much bigger impact on my future choices than I ever thought it would at the time. I think a lot of my sense of adventure stems from the fact that I’m a Galesburg native. Going to college in my hometown activated this desire to see the world, with Galesburg always being a place to call home.

What sparked your interest in studying public health?

A variety of events led me on the path towards a future in public health. I chose to research the politics and media role of obesity in the UK, which got me really fired up about policy related to nutrition. I then completed senior research for my degree in biology, looking at the mechanisms, policy, and public knowledge concerning the compound folate/folic acid in women of childbearing age.

As part of your master’s program, you are currently completing an internship at Harvard. What is your research?

I’m evaluating the association between prenatal and postnatal exposures to persistent organic environmental pollutants and metabolic hormone levels throughout childhood. This may give us better insight into the mechanisms behind increased risks of metabolic diseases, as well as allow for the determination of windows of exposure and susceptibility to later metabolic dysfunction.

What are your plans after Harvard?

Though I’m required to complete a four- to six-month internship, I will be working a total of eight months at Harvard. In July, I will travel back to France to defend my thesis and officially graduate with a master of public health before returning to Harvard for three more months. I will continue to work on other projects, such as analyzing the immune system response to vaccines in relation to environmental exposures, as well as studying the mechanisms on how socioeconomic status influences child development by calculating the pathway impacts of early childhood education, nutrition, and other factors.

After I complete my internship in October, I plan to return to France, or elsewhere in the European Union, to begin to establish some roots and a career in public health. Throughout the past couple of years, I’ve grown to really feel at home in France, and I feel it’s where I belong for the foreseeable future.