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"No one deserves to have HIV"

Scholarships enabled newly minted Krieger School alumna Catie Edwards to find her calling: Counseling injection drug users and studying ways to help them better protect themselves from disease
Posted August 16, 2016
Catie Edwards, A&S '16 Catie Edwards, A&S '16

Few Hopkins students would count among their seminal experiences an afternoon in a small room, counseling a recovering drug user, trying to persuade him to be tested for HIV. But Catie Edwards, a 2016 Krieger School alumna, does.

Each step of her Hopkins journey — lessons from her public health courses, volunteer activities, and internships through the Bloomberg School's Center for AIDS Research — helped bring her to that point. And those steps were made possible because of scholarships Edwards, the first in her family to graduate from college, received.

Her awards included the Jeff Greene Endowed Scholarship, established in 2011 by Krieger School Advisory Board Member Jeff Greene, A&S '75, and his wife, Mei Sze Greene. She also received the Al and Jerrie LaPointe Scholarship, named in 2010 to honor a Hopkins alumnus (Al) and longtime employee (Jerrie).

"Without my scholarships, I probably would have had to take jobs just for the sake of making money for school," Edwards says. "Although I did work throughout my time here, it was always in something I wanted to do, in an area I am passionate about."

That area is HIV/AIDS prevention and research. After learning in a first-year public health class about the significant threat those diseases posed to many in the Baltimore community, she sought to directly engage with the issue. She began volunteering with the Baltimore City Needle Exchange Program, where she worked alongside community health workers to teach injection drug users how to protect themselves from blood-borne diseases.

"People who inject drugs, they're blamed so much for what happens to them. No one deserves to have HIV or Hepatitis C," Edwards explains. "Drug addiction is hard enough."

Edwards' work with the needle exchange program, coupled with her strong academic record, caught the eye of Danielle German, PhD (SPH '09), as she looked for students to participate in a portion of Baltimore's arm of the CDC's National Behavioral Surveillance (BESURE) Study.

"She wrote a really compelling application outlining her experience with this population and her passion for helping drug users," says German, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School. "We snapped her up immediately."

Edwards tested the skills she learned in the classroom and even developed her own research project around the relationship between gender, homelessness, and HIV risk among injection drug users. She presented that work last November at the CFAR Bridging the Gap Symposium. In January, after German's project ended, Edwards joined another study led by Karin Tobin, PhD (SPH '04), MHS (SPH '00), as an interviewer and counselor examining the impact of a peer-based intervention plan on drug users' behaviors.

"She's done everything from geocoding to conducting social network interviews to literature reviews for grants. Our productivity has skyrocketed since Catie joined us," says Tobin, who hired Edwards to join the team full-time as a research assistant after her graduation. Edwards plans to attend graduate school soon but is torn between pursuing a research-centric career, which could give her the power to help many people, and a more grassroots route, which would allow her to directly give resources to people, helping to improve their lives.

"I just want to work to help reduce people's burden by understanding how they can help prevent disease," Edwards says.

Regardless of her path, Hopkins and the donors who made her scholarships possible can take pride in the contributions she's made and will make for populations in need.

"There aren't a lot of people impassioned by the kind of work in which Catie finds inspiration," German says. "To have someone who has the energy, excitement, and skill to do this work, and do it well, is strongly needed. I'm excited to see her continue in this field."

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