University of Washington School of Public Health

Undergraduate Student Profile

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Deanna Ly

Junior, Environmental Health
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Why are you passionate about public health?

My dad is from Laos and, when he was approved to come to the U.S. many years ago, he had a medical screening and found out he had tuberculosis (TB). TB is supposedly still very common in Southeast Asia, but it can be prevented, if you take certain measures. I want to help prevent children from suffering from an infectious disease like TB.

Why did you choose environmental health?

I thought about majoring in public health, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I stumbled upon environmental and occupational health, and met with an advisor. The work is hands on, technical and science related. It encompassed everything that I was interested in.

What do you find most interesting about environmental health?

Environmental health is universal – it incorporates everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink. It plays a large role in our everyday lives.

What do you love most about your classes?

What we’re learning is based on current events, news and research. We’re looking at hot topics and current issues to begin to learn what worked and what didn’t.

What case studies have you found most fascinating?

The lesson on lead exposure and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, was very moving. So many factors played a role. It wasn’t only about the water, but it was about funding, local and federal government, and decision makers, as well as the citizens who are fighting back.

Why did you choose the UW?

I was born and raised in Seattle, and the UW has always been where I wanted to be. My parents went to the UW, as did my aunts, uncles and cousins. Now, my younger brother and I are both undergrads here.

What experience at the UW has been most influential?

Getting my student job in the Chief of Medicine’s office at UW Medical Center. I was there for two years as a student assistant. I enjoyed working in a health care setting and it started me on a path that landed me some sought-after internships.

Tell us about these internships.

I just finished an internship with a local construction company. I was a health and safety intern, and I refined safety protocols and manuals to keep the company up to date with government safety standards.

They did a lot of sandblasting and workers were required to wear full-face respirators. I went into the field to take air quality tests and respirator fit tests, and I wrote a manual and procedure for respirator testing.

This summer, I have an internship with the health and safety team at Amazon.

What are your professional goals?

Ultimately, to start my own nonprofit. Through that, I want to be able to travel for both research and practice, focusing on the impact of environmental exposures on child health.

Tell us about your extracurricular activities.

I’m vice president of my sorority, Chi Sigma Alpha. My cousin and I re-established the Lao Student Association on campus and I’m also a member of the Khmer Student Association.

How do these groups influence your experience as a UW student?

My parents invested in and sent me to private school, where I was usually the only Asian. Coming to the UW and being able to connect with people from similar cultures has been an empowering experience.

What’s one piece of advice you have for prospective students?

Follow your passion. A lot of people nowadays make decisions based on what will make them the most money. For me, it’s just about doing what you love and loving what you do.

Find out more about the undergraduate degree in Environmental Health.


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