On Wednesday, Secretary Vilsack signed a renewed Memorandum of Understanding with the Council of 1890 Universities, reaffirming USDA’s partnership with all 19 1890’s Universities across the country. Through this memorandum the USDA is able to put forth a collaborative effort to encourage more opportunities for students and graduates to work at the USDA or in careers related to food, agricultural science and natural resources. In partnering with 1890 Universities we are able to set up an equitable exchange of expertise and resources that will help strengthen the overall capacity of each institution of learning, as well as the USDA. The following story demonstrates how one USDA 1890’s scholarship recipient has made rewarding career in public health.
Nisha Antoine, a USDA microbiologist and Lieutenant Commander of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, has always understood the relationship between personal health and public health. As a child with asthma, she spent a lot of time in the emergency room, and she was inspired by her doctors and nurses to want to take care of other children as an adult. From elementary school through college at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Nisha enjoyed studying biology, a path she knew would eventually lead to a career of caring for others. When she was a senior in high school, an application for the USDA/1890 National Scholars Program came in the mail, and her mother encouraged her to apply. Today, she says receiving the scholarship and going to an 1890’s institution afforded her opportunities that she may not have experienced otherwise.
Nisha says, “For me, being a [1890’s] scholar meant having support and a team of folks that wanted to ensure my success.” Attending a smaller university, and being a part of the agriculture department specifically, meant she was part of a small community that facilitated close relationships with professors and fellow students. She is still in contact with people she met at agricultural conferences while in college.
As another component of being an 1890’s scholar, Nisha worked in the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Office of Public Health Science during summers while earning her degree in Pre-Veterinary Medicine/Animal Science and a minor in Biology, and she joined the agency full-time after graduating in 1999. She continued her education, earning a Master of Public Health degree in Epidemiology/Biostatistics from George Washington University in 2006, and in 2007 she joined the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, an elite team of more than 6,500 public health professionals dedicated to delivering the nation’s public health promotion and disease prevention programs and advancing public health science.
Today, Nisha leads FSIS’ Microbiological Analysis and Data Team, whose work helps the agency prioritize its food safety goals. She says she enjoys her additional work with USPHS, because “I no longer just fulfill the food safety mission. I now fulfill a mission that incorporates all aspects of public health.”
Dedicated to protecting public health not only for her generation but for generations to come, Nisha says of being a mother to two young sons, “If they grow up being compassionate and caring people who make a difference in people’s lives, I will have done a good job.”
As for career advice for other young people interested in a public service career, Nisha says, “I would recommend this program to any and every one. The scholars are a part of group of like-minded individuals that will support you and that want to succeed. And you have a career, not just a job, not only after graduating from undergrad but during. Scholars are placed within an USDA agency that can and will utilize their skills and technical knowledge. You can’t beat that. For anyone interested in such a program, I would say study, make your grades a priority, research the program and the department so you have an idea of where you think you fit in. I would have never imagined that I would still be with USDA today but my time with this department has been a positive experience for me.”