Going Viral with Camille Dash

This Valedictorian of Ramapo's Class of 2020 and National Merit Scholar will attend Harvard in the Fall.

Tell us about the program you attended last summer.

I went to a Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program at Princeton for three weeks and took a class on epidemiology. The program also offered other classes regarding global concerns, socio-economic challenges, and political issues. The focus of the program was to educate us about these topics and then understand how to begin to apply that knowledge globally.

What were some interesting things you learned?

We read a few pieces of literature, but the one that interested me the most was Spillover by David Quammen. It’s about how zoonotic diseases are becoming a problem as people encroach into animal habitats. It ties into the fact that everything we do is connected to the environment. When people move into areas that were previously wild, they displace the animals, leaving us exposed to new types of diseases.

We also did our own online research pertaining to epidemiology and genetic resistance to HIV. We researched different genes and found that some were resistant to the disease.

Another interesting session was learning about socio-economic factors and disease. For example, in Los Angeles, there are many “medieval” diseases spread throughout the homeless population such as typhus and trench fever. It’s crazy to think about how in LA--home to Hollywood stars--that these diseases exist. They belong in 15th century England, not America.

How did the program affect you socially and personally?

I met wonderful people with the same interests and passions I have. I still keep in touch with them. It’s exciting to meet other kids from all over the country who are ready to tackle global issues. In addition to fun activities during our time off, we had great conversations regarding academics, current events, and the environment.

Did you always have an interest in medicine?

I was always drawn to the sciences. When I was younger, I thought I may want to be a veterinarian, but I am going to take the pre-med track. I really enjoy biology and psychology. At 17 years old, it’s a little overwhelming to think about med school, specializations, and residencies. I am looking forward to exploring different fields and learning about different areas of medicine while I am in college.

How did you feel when you began to understand the implications of COVID-19?

It was worrying when I first heard about it. There was so much that people didn’t know. On one side, it didn’t sound as bad as some other diseases I had learned about. For example, Ebola’s mortality rate is much higher. Initially, I was hopeful that it wasn’t going to be that harmful. Unfortunately, it is so contagious that it overwhelmed the hospital systems and we lost so many people. This doesn’t usually happen in the US, but I learned that this can be endemic in developing countries with diseases like cholera. These countries don’t have the resources to manage health emergencies and most are lacking proper sanitation. We’re very fortunate to have the means in this country to deal with infectious diseases when they arise.

Is there any good news?

A lot of scientific research can be done in order to discover how to best treat these diseases. I believe we’ve come so far with COVID-19 already. I’m confident that researchers will find amazing breakthroughs and treatments in the near future.

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