Jenn Pigoga ’15

Tell us about a favorite memory from your undergrad days. What do you think of the Honors Programs and your time at URI?

As someone who prefers small group settings and thrives in classes that are more applied/discussion-based than traditional lectures, the Honors Program was a great fit for me.

A favorite memory that I have from the Honors Program was taking a course titled, “The History of the Irish in Rhode Island.” This class still stands out in my mind, a decade later. Our instructor, an Irish Rhode Islander, guided us through a deep history of both Ireland and the Irish in our own state. It was a mixed-media class, blending readings, movies, and discussions, as well as field trips to places like the Irish Famine Memorial. I am part-Irish myself, and it was cool to learn more about my heritage in an academic setting. I certainly would not have taken this course if not for Honors, but I am glad that I did! General education courses can sometimes feel pointless – after all, they may not relate directly to your major – but the Honors Program made them engaging and exciting in a way that larger lectures could not!

The Honors Program was pivotal to the opportunities I was able to pursue post-grad.

Did you complete further studies after graduating from URI?

  • MSc (Emergency Medicine) – University of Cape Town, 2016
  • MPH (Epidemiology) – Emory University, 2018
  • PhD (Public Health, concentration in emergency care) – University of Cape Town, 2021

Tell us a little about the work you are doing today. 

In the time since completing my PhD, I have worked as an epidemiologist with several organizations, including the World Health Organization and the CDC Foundation. At present, I am a Lead Data Scientist for CVS Health, where I work with health data to conduct clinical trials and safety surveillance research. I leverage existing “big data” (such as healthcare insurance administrative claims and pharmacy dispensings) to assess the safety and efficacy of vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. This work is unique in that, despite being a “private sector” role, we collaborate primarily with local and federal governments and academic institutions to achieve our research objectives. My day-to-day responsibilities include development and management of research projects, data transformation, and data analysis using a range of methodologies, including cost-effectiveness techniques and machine learning.

I have also had the opportunity to work with the Honors Program since 2020. I served as a Lecturer for the Honors Program, teaching students about the basic social and epidemiological constructs related to the global burden of disease. Presently, I am assisting with Pre-Health Advising.

What did the path to your current role look like? What are some interesting jobs or experiences you had along the way?

My career path has been surprising to everyone, myself included. I am a “reformed pre-med” who, on the eve of beginning medical school, decided that a non-clinical career in research and public health was my true path. My academic path has been both straightforward – I completed two Master’s degrees followed by my PhD – and unique, as much of my training has been outside of the US. I am lucky to now have a desirable data-centric skillset that allows me to work in a variety of settings and public health contexts. Since graduating from URI, I have had the opportunity to work with health data at a range of healthcare organizations, including governments, non-profits, and the private sector. A few interesting roles that highlight the breadth of my experiences include:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Epidemiology Fellow: Collaborated with 46 states and local departments of health to evaluate CDC-funded programs for reducing transmission of tuberculosis in high-risk populations.

World Health Organization (WHO) – Data Consultant, Emergency Care: Consultant providing technical guidance and data analytics to WHO’s Global Emergency and Trauma Care Initiative (GETI); responsible for evaluating the impacts of an emergency care systems improvement intervention program across 39 hospitals in 5 countries.

African Federation for Emergency Medicine (AFEM) – Research Fellow and Research Scientist: Over a 6-year period (1 year as a Research Fellow, and 5 years as a Research Scientist), participated in design, collection, and data analysis for, and reported on, more than 20 multi-country emergency care projects in low- and middle-income countries. One particular highlight of my time with AFEM was my work on the Community First Aid Responder (CFAR) course, which I refined for the African context and piloted in five countries. This course has since been adopted by the World Health Organization for broader use worldwide.

What would you like to highlight about your post-grad experience that you feel URI and the Honors Program uniquely prepared you for?

Two experiences, both of which occurred during my senior year of undergrad and were directly due to the Honors Program, were – quite literally – pivotal to my career.

The first experience was a connection I made in Dr. Roger Lebrun’s Honors infectious disease course. Dr. Lebrun had a guest speaker that was a past student and was completing a fellowship in South Africa at the time. The fellowship – a one-year research fellowship with the African Federation for Emergency Medicine – was of interest to me, as I had worked as an EMT-Cardiac during undergrad and was interested in the research side of emergency care. Dr. Lebrun connected me with his past student, and I successfully applied for the fellowship. A month after graduating from URI, I packed my life up and moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where I would end up completing both a MSc and PhD. The one-year fellowship ignited my interests in global health and emergency care, and the connections I forged led to additional opportunities to work with the World Health Organization on emergency care development.

The second experience that was key to my post-grad life was the Honors Project. After volunteering at a free clinic in Providence for a few years, I chose to do my Honors Project under the supervision of the clinic’s medical director. We assessed the impacts of the Affordable Care Act on health insurance access in the Providence community, and found that the barriers that existed pre-ACA (primarily, immigration status and cost) were still highly prevalent post-ACA. Conducting research in undergrad, and publishing this work, established me as a researcher and allowed me to be a competitive applicant to fellowships and grad school. It also allowed me to begin to understand the current flaws in our healthcare system and primed me for a career working to improve the system.

What advice do you have for current students?

One piece of advice that I have for current students is to use the Honors Project, Colloquia, and courses as networking opportunities. Get to know your instructors and ask them for connections! My career to-date is due in large part to the opportunities that the Honors Program afforded me to 1) to connect with like-minded people and 2) begin basic research.

How can students and other alumni reach you?

I can be reached via email