The Chagas Disease is a parasitic, chronic and endemic disease that plagues many parts of the Americas, including Guatemala. It’s spread by insects known as Triatominae, or “kissing bugs.” After seeing the devastation it wreaked on her people, Lucia Orantes was determined to dedicate her career to researching and developing solutions to address the challenges the disease presents.
Her answer came in the form of an Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases grant from the Natural Science Foundation. Ticket in hand, she traded Guatemala City for Burlington and began her PhD in Natural Resources.
At UVM, she conducted research on the landscape genetics and dispersion patterns of the Chagas disease vector with the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR). “I liked that RSENR has a very interdisciplinary approach,” she shares. “It helped me keep an open mind and flexibility towards the types of jobs I was applying for.”
Today, Orantes works at the Vermont Department of Health as an epidemiologist for the statistics unit in Health Surveillance. She has been instrumental in managing some of the state’s most pressing health issues, including acting as an analyst for the COVID-19 outbreak response team from 2020-21.
Her advice to future students? “Find a professor that works in an area that you like and reach out to them to ask if they are currently looking for students,” she says. “It is important to find your source of funding before applying.”
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