Student Profile: Morgan Taylor

Morgan Taylor, a doctoral student studying in the Institute for Disaster Management, is expanding her expertise in data analysis and modeling in order to work on research projects that apply a range of methodologies from epidemiology and biostatistics to improve our preparedness and resilience to complex disasters.

“I am incredibly passionate about emergency and disaster management. Disasters are ever-increasing in both frequency and severity, and they continue to drastically affect all aspects of public health and health care with impacts ranging from access and utilization to management and leadership,” she said.

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Emphasis: Data Analysis & Modeling

May 2023

Master of Public Health in Disaster Management, University of Georgia
Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Emory University
Advanced EMT, Emory University

Stone Mountain, GA

What is your educational and professional background?

I majored in Chemistry as an undergraduate student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. During that time, I also earned my Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT) license and joined Emory EMS, which is a 24/7, student-run emergency medical service that responds to 911 calls on the Emory campus and in the surrounding areas. In my final year at Emory, I had the honor of serving as Chief of EMS for Emory EMS.

I spent a year working in strategic planning in Emory’s School of Medicine before coming to the University of Georgia initially to earn a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Disaster Management. I am now pursuing a Ph.D. in Epidemiology & Biostatistics with an area of emphasis in data analysis and modeling, where my multidisciplinary research leverages aspects of epidemiology, biostatistics, disaster management, and geography.

What particular area/field of public health are you passionate about? How did you become involved in your field?

I am incredibly passionate about emergency and disaster management. Disasters are ever-increasing in both frequency and severity, and they continue to drastically affect all aspects of public health and health care with impacts ranging from access and utilization to management and leadership. I initially was exposed to public health and emergency management through my experiences working in EMS, both as a first responder and as Chief of EMS.

Since coming to UGA, my passion has focused particularly on the impact on and the role of health care during particularly catastrophic incidents, such as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other explosive (CBRNE) disasters. For me, these events present a fascinating challenge to me, due to the juxtaposition of relative severity and lack of previous incidents to inform preparedness for future ones.

What exciting projects are you working on?

My work focuses on developing models of CBRNE incidents to better understand the type of injury and geospatial distribution of casualties. CBRNE events are relatively uncommon, and therefore little historical data exist from which emergency managers can create effective plans for response. I am developing a model for casualty estimation in the aftermath of an improvised nuclear detonation (IND) by integrating various data sources and existing software, including Blender and Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability (HPAC).

I also leverage existing health care databases to predict patient outcomes in highly strained health care settings. These casualty estimates are further implemented into operational research models that include local, state, and federal response plans to ultimately optimize the utilization of health care resources in the aftermath of a simulated IND. It is my hope that these models will assist emergency management and public health partners as well as policy makers to increase our preparedness and resiliency for CBRNE disasters.

What attracted you to your graduate program at the College of Public Health?

A previous coworker of mine was a volunteer patient in an exercise at the Institute for Disaster Management (IDM), and she offhandedly mentioned the program to me while we were waiting for a meeting to start. I went home that night to look into the program, and I learned that UGA is one of just three programs in the country that offer an MPH in Disaster Management. From the moment I first set foot in the building, I immediately knew IDM was the perfect fit for me. I was surrounded by fellow students who enjoy learning about disasters just as much as I do, and the faculty and staff work tirelessly to help students achieve their goals.

Throughout my course work, internship, and work at the Institute as a graduate assistant, I saw an opportunity to apply a stronger analytics focus to the field of disaster management. I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. to address this gap, but IDM didn’t have a doctoral program. Not to be deterred, professors around the College worked together to help me find a solution, and I ultimately started my Ph.D. in Epidemiology & Biostatistics with an area of emphasis in data analysis and modeling. Now, I get to work on research projects that apply methodologies from epidemiology and biostatistics to complex disasters.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your time at the College (so far)?

This is a difficult question to answer, because there have been so many incredible moments during my time at CPH. So, I have two:

First and foremost, the faculty, staff, and students at the Institute for Disaster Management are irreplaceable. They immediately welcomed me to the IDM family when I first arrived, and their support has never wavered over the last five and a half years.

More recently, I had the opportunity to be a part of the planning team for Vista Forge, which was a full-scale exercise designed to test the capabilities of civilian and military response to an improvised nuclear detonation in Atlanta. It was a surreal experience to witness everything that I have spent the last three and a half years researching implemented on such a large scale.

What achievements/honors during your time at CPH are you most proud of?

In the first year of my Ph.D., I had the unique opportunity to develop the content for and serve as the Instructor of Record for an undergraduate course (DMAN 3200: Disaster Policy), which also happened to be the semester that the COVID-19 pandemic began. We spent the first half of the semester discussing COVID-19 as a current event, before adapting the content to focus on public health policy during pandemics as we transitioned to online instruction. It was incredibly fulfilling and rewarding to engage undergraduate students with public health and disaster management in a way that I hope is even a fraction of my experience in the MPH program in the College.

Do you have any external activities that you are passionate about?

I currently have the privilege of serving as the Assistant Director for the UGA Medical Reserve Corps (UGA MRC), which is a volunteer organization that supports the emergency management, public health, and other health care needs of the Athens-Clarke County (ACC) and UGA communities during times of need. During non-emergency times, we focus mostly on training, emergency preparedness, and first aid event stand-by at ACC and UGA events. We also work closely with the Piedmont First Aid Dawgs to provide medical care for attendees at the Georgia football home games.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the public health and health care needs of our communities were strained to an unprecedented level. More than 150 of our volunteers bravely answered the calls for help and provided more than 2,300 hours of service at testing and vaccination sites. It’s an honor every day to support an organization with so many selfless and courageous individuals dedicated to helping their communities in times of need.

What are your career plans beyond graduation?

After graduation, I hope to stay in academia at a land-grant university like UGA. My experience at UGA every day further emphasizes my passion for the tripartite mission of teaching, research, and service. I hope to continue to have a close relationship with the communities that I serve and to further support their public health and emergency management needs.

What are the biggest takeaways from your educational experiences at UGA so far?

If you have an idea, goals, or a dream that you aren’t sure about how to achieve, just ASK! The College of Public Health embodies the principles of public health and academia, and we are all here to support each other. When I started at UGA CPH, my current degree program didn’t exist. The faculty in the College, especially Dr. Curt Harris, Dr. Erin Lipp, and Dr. Andreas Handel, worked together to help me achieve my dreams of earning a doctorate here at UGA.

Posted January 12, 2023.