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UGA Public Service and Outreach prepared student for fellowship at CDC

The University of Georgia’s Archway Partnership taught Katie Wargo how to scramble.

It was early one Monday morning when an urgent deadline project dropped on the UGA graduate’s desk.

“You learn that things never go as you predict,” Wargo said a couple hours later. “You’ll definitely run into twists and turns. You learn how to adapt and how to be flexible to reality. In class projects, it can be difficult to be exposed to those kind of unpredictable events.”

Exposure to real-world experience is one of the reasons Wargo, now a fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, picked UGA’s College of Public Health for graduate school after receiving her undergraduate degree from Clemson University in 2013. Soon after she arrived at UGA, she learned about the Archway Partnership, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, from a guest speaker in one of her classes.

The 24-year-old became immersed in Archway’s mission of providing UGA resources to communities across the state. She spent a year helping put together a health promotion toolkit that communities could use to develop programs. She later took those strategies to Metter in Candler County, where she collaborated with community members to conduct an inventory of health services and promote a physical fitness program encouraging residents to take advantage of five local walking trails.

“Archway seemed like a unique program where you were highly involved with communities and directly interacting with people you were serving,” Wargo said. “You’re bridging that gap between research and the people it is going to benefit.”

Through the Archway Partnership, Wargo took the technical skills she learned in the classroom to Georgia communities. She learned the reality of implementation, where progress doesn’t always march to the beat of a syllabus. Wargo could stay up all night in Athens developing a presentation for class the next day, but in the real world she could run into obstacles, like public meetings or unreturned phone calls that altered her approach to the work.

Relationships are critical and she learned the importance of a follow-up email, phone call or in-person visit. Just saying hello at a conference or meeting helped establish lasting connections.

Those lessons stick with her today at the CDC where she works with state and local health departments in foodborne disease outbreak response.

“I knew the benefits of meeting people in person, getting to know them,” she said. “For some reason, being in person does (more) than through the phone or over email. Now I’m flying across the country instead of five-hour drives across the state.”

Parallels with her graduate work pop up all the time. Instead of working with Archway to collaborate with officials in Candler County, she now works with the CDC to collaborate with  state health departments in Minnesota and Colorado. Where she partnered with the College of Environment and Design at UGA, now she works with the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It was Archway that prepared her to confidently take on her new responsibilities.

“Really I’ve just taken all those skills, relationship building and implementation at Archway, and amplified those onto the national stage,” Wargo said. “Because of my Archway experience, I felt prepared to work with the big-time state health departments and federal national partners. The scope of work just increased.”

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