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Alumna Receives Fulbright, Has Other Plans

As an undergraduate, Alexis Burnham of Oak Ridge majored in animal science with minors in Hispanic studies and biological sciences. In addition to the usual curriculum, she pursued her varied interests by studying Catalan in Spain, competing with the equestrian team, volunteering with Girl Scouts, and taking electives ranging from sustainable forestry to German.

She graduated with her BS in 2016 as part of the Chancellor’s Honors Program and is now one of eight UT students and recent graduates offered prestigious Fulbright grants. For Burnham, though, a better opportunity lies in a two-year European Union-funded fellowship in infectious diseases and One Health that offers her research opportunities in France, Spain, Scotland, and Germany.

Originally planning to attend veterinary school, Burnham was inspired to change careers after working on her honors thesis project with Animal Science associate professor Gina Pighetti in the department’s immunogenetics lab. She has continued her research involvement as an intern in microbial genomics at Oak Ridge National Lab. 

In contrast with traditional views, One Health recognizes that human, animal, and environmental health are intrinsically linked. “Since my first encounter with the term in public health class, it has captured my interest and shaped my professional plans,” Burnham says. “As recent epidemics illustrate, pathogens are not limited to the borders of a single country, and as such, they demand approaches that cross divides between disciplines and nations.” She adds, “I am excited to have found a field that builds on my background in animal production and microbiology as well as my linguistic and cultural studies, and I look forward to the challenge of adapting to such a dynamic, internationally-oriented area of research.”

Burnham says she ultimately aims to contribute to the understanding of zoonotic diseases (those that can be transmitted between animals and people) in livestock production in developing countries, which she sees as a critical area of need.