Faculty conversation: Theresa Bernardo
EAST LANSING, Mich. — After spending 12 years at Michigan State University, Theresa Bernardo took a leave of absence in 2009 to join the Pan American Health Organization and was thrust into two public health emergencies: a worldwide flu epidemic (H1N1) and a devastating earthquake in Haiti.
While working for the World Health Organization regional office, Bernardo used informational technologies to help deal with the crises and save lives in disaster situations. Now, back at MSU as an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and founder of One Health Knowledge Initiatives, Bernardo is looking to set up new collaborations across campus, using new and social media to improve public health.
"I am interested in ways we can combine human, veterinary and environmental health to face some of the world's biggest challenges in a collaborative way," said Bernardo, who has extensive experience in international development, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. "How can we use new, innovative technologies to prevent, deal with and recover from emergencies?"
For example, Bernardo said that after the Haiti earthquake, phone lines and cell towers were destroyed. Some of the first messages out were via e-mail, Skype and Facebook.
"It was challenging just to find out what was going on," she said. "Rescue workers had no way to find the people who were trapped."
To overcome that hurdle, a group of programmers in Washington, D.C., created a code that people could text to let rescuers know where victims were trapped, using software originally developed for election monitoring in Kenya.
"While we are more familiar with the recreational uses of social media, these new technologies give us ways to respond to and hopefully eventually prevent public health emergencies," she said.
Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.