Three Biodefense Grads Set to Lead Global Health Organization

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Originally published on February 23, 2021

Photo of Kate Kerr
Kate Kerr: 'We have been heavily influenced by our incredible staff in the biodefense master’s program and the Schar School.'

Three 2019 graduates from the Schar School’s Master’s in Biodefense program have been elected to top leadership positions in the Next Generation Global Health Security Network, an international organization of nearly 1,000 early- to mid-stage professionals and students who work on the full spectrum of issues related to global health, ranging from combating antibiotic resistance to preventing the next pandemic.

Next Generation Global Health Security Network—NextGen, for short—is an affiliate of the Global Health Security Agenda, a collaboration founded in 2014 by representatives from 44 countries (now 69) and organizations, including the World Health Organization.

The new officers are Kate Madison Kerr, who will coordinate the global network; Anthony Falzarano, who will manage the organization’s finances; and Jessica Smrekar, the newly appointed coordinator for the United States.

“I am very heartened to see so many alumni of the biodefense program chosen for leadership positions in this important organization,” said Schar School associate professor Gregory Koblentz, director of the biodefense programs. “The biodefense graduate program has long prided itself on preparing its graduates to work on issues at the nexus of health, security, and security at the local, national, and global levels. These appointments are a concrete demonstration of that aspiration.”

“It is an incredible feat that three Schar School graduates are assuming leadership of an organization this large, and I’m incredibly proud of it,” said Kerr. “We have been heavily influenced by our incredible staff in the Master’s in Biodefense program and the Schar School.”

Photo of Jessica Smrekar
Jessica Smrekar: 'Covering these different areas during my time at [the Schar School] has helped me to understand more fully the challenges within global health security...'

For instance, former adjunct professor Jamechia Hoyle, a 2011 Master’s in Public and Global Health graduate, and Koblentz “emphasized from day one the importance of global cooperation, networking, and mutual support. Disease and health do not adhere to borders, which is a lesson we heard on day one. Going forward in our careers, we knew that we needed to expand our network and always keep a hand outstretched toward international partnerships. I think we will only grow those lessons as we move forward.”

Kerr, who is an intelligence analyst for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton specializing in transnational crime, said “my career has been heavily influenced by both the biodefense program, as well as the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, two Schar School powerhouses.”

Similarly, Smrekar credits the Schar School’s program and her affiliation with NextGen for “kickstarting my career,” she said. Smrekar is a research specialist for the Virginia-based CNA Corporation, where she helps plan “all-hazard preparedness” measures for the Washington, D.C., region.

While the biodefense program “did an incredible job of exploring all the different sides of global health security,” it was the “amazing opportunities and connections” she developed as a member of NextGen that added value to her resumé.

“It truly was my first introduction to anything on a global scale and it allowed me to begin interacting with and learning from global partners,” she said of her NextGen experience. “As a mentee in the 2018 mentorship program, I was able to create a research project that was accepted to the inaugural Global Health Security Conference in Sydney, Australia, in 2019.

“I owe NextGen for giving me the opportunity to have the amazing experience of presenting my work at a monumental professional conference, interacting with incredible experts, and gaining an entirely new network of professionals. It truly has helped me grow as a professional, as well as a person.”

At the Schar School, Smrekar said she focused on “biosecurity, preparedness, and response, and a touch of pandemic-related materials, which have definitely come in handy this past year…Covering these different areas during my time at [the Schar School] has helped me to understand more fully the challenges within global health security, and to work with our members to take on those challenges.”