BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota State University has created a new position that will play a significant role in helping the university operate during the coronavirus pandemic.
A 2017 graduate of SDSU, Laura Dirks is the university’s first public health specialist.
“I felt very supported during my four years and I’ve always been interested in outbreak and response, so this was a chance to both combine my passion for outbreak and response during a pandemic and also support the institution that I did my undergraduate at,” SDSU Public Health Specialist Laura Dirks said.
Dirks also attended Emery University in Atlanta, Georgia, and worked at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I was actually at the CDC when this pandemic started and so one of my first jobs was to support the emergency operations center and their zoonotic infectious disease response, so I’ve really been with it from the beginning and I’m excited to take that knowledge and that experience now to continue this fall,” Dirks said.
SDSU President Barry Dunn says the university wasn’t lacking scientific expertise.
“The people in those positions are busy teaching and doing research and what we lacked was a person that could come in with a lot of expertise and serve not only the campus but the Brookings community as we come back to campus,” SDSU President Barry Dunn said.
Bringing students back to Brookings, while providing a safe environment, is job number one for Dirks.
“We call it a designated worrier, someone to worry about this all the time and advise me, but also communicate with the mayor,” Dunn said.
“Such a small community, we’re bringing 12,000 students back, almost doubling the size of the town, so it’ll be really important to coordinate and make sure we’re on top of things before we bring all the students back,” Dirks said.
And Dirks is eager to help guide SDSU through COVID-19, and beyond.
“The thing with public health and pandemics is that the definitions are always changing and so you really have to be proactive and be flexible with that,” Dirks said.
SDSU is working closely with the city of Brookings since more than half of the university’s students live off-campus during the school year.