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News | April 18, 2023

Inspiring future epidemiologist through Army Educational Outreach Program

By Amy Marie Blencowe Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

In 9th grade, Kekeli Woyome knew she wanted to become an epidemiologist for the CDC. She joined Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s research practicum program to learn more about infectious disease research, but she wanted more hands-on experience. 

Woyome heard about the U.S. Army Educational Outreach Program (AEOP) through a student who participated that summer at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and soon found herself in an entomology laboratory dissecting mosquitoes. 

“For three weeks all I did was dissect mosquitoes every single day. I never knew how small and delicate the mosquitoes were. Being able to separate the mid guts and salivary glands is my biggest accomplishment,” Woyome said.

For twelve hours every week, during the school year, she continued her research on studying the suitability of different mosquito species for Controlled Human Malaria infection (CHMI) studies, a process where lab-reared mosquitoes are infected with lab-cultured malaria parasites and allowed to feed on human volunteers. Under the mentorship of Capt. Matthew Burrows, chief of Vector and Parasite Biology in the entomology branch, and Dr. Andrezza Campos Chagas, research biologist, not only was Woyome able to dissect 20 mosquitoes per hour and improve her ability to take photos through a microscope, but her competitive spirit thrived.

She presented her research, in the biomedical health sciences category, at Eleanor Roosevelt High School STEM fair in March 2023 where she placed first. She moved on to compete at the Prince George’s Area Science Fair later that month, where she also placed first in the same category. Additionally, she was also awarded the Commissioned Officers Association award for her distinguished achievement by the United States Public Health Service’s District of Columbia Metropolitan Area Branch.

She shared her AEOP experience with underclassmen from her High School, to encourage others to consider learning more about STEM careers and the importance of infectious diseases. 

“Diseases that are spread by vectors are important for people to learn about because they will never go away, and they can travel so far to impact a lot of people,” Woyome said. 

WRAIR has been hosting students of different educational levels for more than 20 years in support of the U.S. Army’s mission to develop a more scientifically and technologically literate citizenry. 

“WRAIR has built a continuum of programs supporting real hands-on scientific experimentation to lay the steppingstones to a science career,” said Dr. Debra Yourick, director of Science Education and Fellowships Programs at WRAIR. 

WRAIR leverages its world-class scientists and facilities to offer a collaborative, cohesive portfolio of opportunities that effectively engage students of all proficiency levels, interests, social, and economic backgrounds in meaningful, real-world STEM experiences as well as paid internships and fellowships with Army-sponsored mentors. More information about the programs and application requirements can be found here.