Ashley Simenson was inspired to pursue a career in public health after watching the documentary The Weight of the Nation
as a freshman in college, but not because she hoped to contribute to the fight against obesity in America.
“It featured interviews with multiple people with ‘MPH’ cited after their names, and I had no idea what MPH stood for, so I looked it up,” she says. “I was enthralled by the opportunities I was finding and the research that was happening in public health.”
In July 2014, Simenson and 14 other Oklahoma State University (OSU) students attended a two-week course at the University of Cambridge on the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and initial responses from domestic and international governments as well as public health organizations. She sites the course and learning about physician and epidemiologist Selma Dritz as the reason she chose to study infectious disease epidemiology, specifically HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections (STI).
Upon graduating from OSU in 2017, Simenson applied to nine graduate schools (she does not recommend applying to nine schools) and says financial aid and affordability were both major factors in her decision. Her first phone call after receiving her acceptance letter from Pitt Public Health was to Nancy Glynn, assistant professor and director of master's degree programs in epidemiology.
“When we talked, it was clear how much Dr. Glynn loved Pittsburgh and Pitt Public Health,” says Simenson. “When I came to visit Pitt, Dr. Glynn met me and took the time to show me around the entire school. On the actual admitted students day, we went on a trolley tour of the city, and I just loved Pittsburgh. I walked up to Dr. Glynn’s office and told her I was coming to Pitt. Basically, Dr. Glynn is the reason I chose Pitt.”
One semester into her graduate education, the Dean’s Scholar and MPH student says she has never been happier. She’s planning to pursue an MD/PhD and is also exploring options such as Pitt’s Medical Scientist Training Program that allows for getting a PhD through Carnegie Mellon University’s Social and Decision Sciences program.
“I want to be an infectious disease specialist and conduct research in HIV and STI prevention and treatment,” she says. “Pitt has such a well-respected public health program that I know whatever I choose to pursue I will have a strong base in public health and epidemiology.”