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Sommer Scholars

Tara Sell, PhD, MA

  • Country of Origin: United States
  • PhD '16, Health, Policy & Management

My parents always encouraged me to be the person on the field rather than the person cheering from the sidelines. This lesson stayed with me as I began swimming competitively, eventually earning an athletic scholarship to Stanford University and winning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. As an elite and professional athlete, I’ve had to learn that while being competitive is important, there is also a time to rely on teamwork. I am grateful that I still remember one of the major lessons I learned from athletics: Many times, it’s not about beating the person next to you but, rather, helping them perform and be the best they can be. Although winning the silver medal and swimming professionally were great accomplishments, I knew I wouldn’t be a swimmer forever. After retiring from professional swimming in 2009, I took a job at the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC (later UPMC Center for Health Security). While there, I worked toward protecting people’s health from the consequences of epidemics and disasters, and ensuring that communities are resilient in the face of major challenges. This work, with D.A. Henderson and other experts in the field of health security, was important in shaping my future research. My dissertation explored public policy responses to emerging epidemics; specifically, how the media and policy intertwine in the case of Ebola and the health consequences of these policy actions. I believe that it's necessary to consider public health when planning for disasters. Even regarding decisions that may, at first glance, have little impact on public health, it's vital for decision-makers to consider that public health is affected by many different and unexpected factors. Public health must have a seat at the table when decisions are made, and I plan to help make that happen.

Current Position

Assistant Professor of Environmental Health & Engineering, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security