From zoonoses to mental health interventions, MPH student’s interdisciplinary research at Mason leads to CDC Fellowship


Ryan Shelton, a recent graduate of the George Mason University's Master of Public Health (MPH) program, accepted a full-time ORISE Fellow position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. He is part of the Science Team in the Division of Emergency Operations where he works in the emergency preparedness sector preparing reports, interpreting data, and providing recommendations for CDC emergency response processes. 

portrait of Ryan Shelton
Ryan Shelton. Photo provided

Shelton credits the academic and research opportunities at Mason's College of Public Health for preparing him for this role.  

“Mason's MPH program allowed me to gain experience with interdisciplinary research through the diverse classes offered as well as research assistantships like the one I had with Dr. Roess,” Shelton said. 

During his program, Shelton worked as a research assistant under Mason researcher Amira Roess performing multiple studies surrounding zoonoses, diseases that can be passed between humans and animals. His primary assignment focused on infectious disease research about the mother-to-child transmission of specific bacteria in rural Bangladesh.  

“The goal of this study was to examine bacteria levels in expecting mothers, their immediate households, and any animals they had contact with to determine how many samples of bacteria were in each mother before birth, and about six months after birth,” Shelton said. 

In a separate survey-based study, Shelton also tracked human-deer interactions across Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Southern Maryland to determine risks of disease spread in urban areas.   

“The goal of the deer-human interaction survey is to document where the deer are migrating and gain insight on their geographical placement in urban environments,” said Shelton. “This will help determine the risk of zoonotic disease spread between humans and deer in densely populated areas.” 

Both studies necessitated Shelton to have an understanding of infectious disease, animal science, and geography, consistent with the public health practice of One-Health

Under Roess’s tutelage, Shelton designed surveys, performed literature searches, conducted data analysis, and created figures to visualize data---many of which he is already using in his current role with the CDC. 

Versatile communicable and chronic disease research skills 

In addition to his work with zoonotic diseases with Roess, Shelton is completing research to address the mental health crisis afflicting public health workers across the globe with Project HOPE, a global nonprofit whose public health work includes improving access to mental health services for all populations.  

Shelton recognizes the need to reduce the stigma associated with mental health so health care workers feel they can seek help. 

“Prioritizing and normalizing mental health is highly important so the workers can share their concerns and be open to receiving treatment,” he said. 

Shelton’s interdisciplinary work with Project HOPE integrates the fields of mental health, public health, sociology, and emergency preparedness and response. He is currently working on a resiliency training program to teach frontline health care workers coping mechanisms for high-stress situations. 

“It is an unfortunate reality that health care workers do not often receive the mental health support they need in trying times,” Shelton said. “With Project HOPE, I am working on analyzing and improving a mental health and resilience training program that is implemented to address the mental health crisis for nurses, doctors, and other emergency responders around the world.”   

Like his work with Roess, the data analysis and public health program evaluation skills he developed while in Mason’s MPH program have proven to be invaluable. 

Mason students pursuing the MPH are instructed in the core public health competencies while also being exposed to the various fields where public health intersects with. Those concentrating in global health, like Shelton, are trained to promote public health worldwide, as well as prevent infections and chronic illnesses. 

“I took many classes that exposed me to a variety of sub-fields within the public health sphere,” said Shelton. "Within the MPH global health concentration, courses covered a variety of topics including infectious diseases, human migration patterns, and even biostatistics, but most importantly, how these different areas come together in public health."