Meet our Faculty: Jessie Burke


Meet our Faculty: Jessica Burke, PhD

Jessie Burke wears many hats at Pitt Public Health, one being the interim chair for the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology. Her passion for scholarship and public health is only matched by her appetite for her homemade chili (which she got pretty good at making courtesy of COVID-19).

Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I always wanted to be a teacher. I’m actually named after my great-grandmother Jessie who was an elementary school teacher. I have so much respect for K-12 teachers, but I honestly can’t imagine educating young children. I really enjoy my role as educator and mentor to college and graduate students. 

Q: What's the most interesting place you've ever visited?
A: I’ve been fortunate to live and travel internationally quite a bit. In 2014 I took a sabbatical and moved with my husband and two kids (at the time they were 6 and 10) to Puno, Peru to conduct research on women's health and the social network connections between borrowers in a group-based microfinance program. Located in Southern Peru on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable body of water, I knew living in Puno would be an adventure, but didn't fully appreciate the added challenges of living at 13,000 feet above sea level! Every single time I climbed the four flights of stairs to our apartment I had to stop and catch my breath. Through the research I did in Puno, I was able to uncover important information about the impact of social dynamics on health attitudes and behaviors. My family and I also learned a lot about the local culture and about ourselves.


Pictured: (top left to right) Jessie Burke, Shawn Kerstetter; (bottom left to right) Warren and Griffin Kerstetter.

Q: What was your “go to” recipe/meal over the last year?
A: I have one "go to" recipe and it's chili. My family has begged me to stop making chili, but for me it's a comfort food. I love them all, but chicken and white bean chili is a favorite. 

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read over the last two years?
A: Truth be told, I watch more TV than I read books. That said, I just started reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and look forward to carving out more time to continue it.

Q: What excites you the most about the new academic year?
A: Working with students is my favorite part of the job and the start of the new academic year is an exciting opportunity to meet in-coming and reconnect with on-going students Their enthusiasm, commitment and creativity is infectious!

Q: What are some career highlights you would want new students to know about?
A: Three overarching aims shape my scholarship: 1) utilizing innovative quantitative and qualitative methods to explore systems and the mechanisms linking context influences and health; 2) engaging communities in the process of research and its translation; and 3) developing tailored interventions to address contextual influences. The 2014 book Methods for Community Public Health Research: Integrated and Engaged Approaches (Springer Publishing Company) that I developed and co-edited provides additional details about this agenda and is a career highlight.

Q: What school/department accomplishment or milestone are you most proud of?
A: One of Pitt Public Health’s original four departments, IDM has for more than three decades been largely defined by outstanding research and public health initiatives against HIV. More recently, the department’s focus has diversified to include other important infectious diseases including Tuberculosis, Influenza, Zika, Dengue, Yellow Fever, Rift Valley Fever, Lyme and COVID-19. Public Health continues to evolve and expand, notably so during COVID19 pandemic, and the department is perfectly positioned to prevent future pandemics by conducting relevant research and training the next generation of infectious disease public health professionals.

Q: What's your favorite mantra/saying/motto/quote?
A: Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. - Goethe, German poet



Jessie Burke
Interim Chair, IDM
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Office of the Dean
Professor and Associate Chair, Behavioral and Community Health Sciences


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