Most people might not think of studying infectious diseases as a pleasant endeavor, but public health expert and parasitologist Isabell Kingori believes that sharing her knowledge with the world is one of the most fulfilling things she can do.
After a year-long delay to her arrival due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kingori has finally joined the Hollins community for the 2021-22 academic year as a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence. Kingori, who earned her bachelor’s degree in applied biology from Kenya Methodist University and her master’s degree and Ph.D. in applied parasitology from the University of Nairobi, is bringing an international perspective to Hollins’ own public health curriculum. She has taught both undergraduate and graduate students at Kenyatta University’s School of Public Health in Nairobi since 2018, with course topics including immunology, communicable diseases, and vector control.
“I first wanted to study parasitology because people in Kenya are affected by a lot of different diseases — and in order to control a disease, you must first understand it, how it’s spread, and at what part of the transmission cycle you want to stop it,” Kingori said. “I was motivated to do the Fulbright program because I felt the need to share my knowledge with a country that doesn’t face the same diseases that my country does. Any time I gain new information by researching, I want to share it with people who don’t know anything about it.”
Kingori’s expertise is certainly on display in the Vectors of Public Health Importance course that she is currently teaching. The class focuses on diseases that are transmitted to humans by organisms, particularly biting insects. “In Africa, we have so many diseases that are transmitted by insects, like malaria, sleeping sickness, and bilharzia. I’m teaching the students about the particular organisms that are responsible for these diseases, and how they can be controlled through methods such as trapping the insects,” she explained. “For example, malaria is transmitted by the anopheles mosquito, and mosquitoes breed in water. So there are environmental management measures we can take to make sure that mosquitos are not able to breed in the water.”
“I also want to help my students understand the importance of development in a nation, because the more a country is developed, the more it is able to tackle simple infections and diseases that would otherwise kill people in an underdeveloped nation. It’s so valuable to learn the milestones that have been met by certain countries in terms of improving health, education, and social systems because those are milestones that some countries still need to meet.”
Kingori isn’t the only one who’s passionate about her teaching opportunities at Hollins. “Dr. Kingori is able to provide incredible insights on health care disparities and disease systems in Africa,” said Elizabeth Gleim, assistant professor of biology and environmental studies. “Ensuring that our students going into health care and public health have a global perspective and understanding of systems outside of the U.S. is so incredibly important as we are cognizant more than ever of the international efforts that are often needed to address public health issues and the ability of diseases to so easily cross international borders thanks to modern-day travel.”
While studying diseases matters a great deal to Kingori, she’s equally as eager to be a mentor who can support her students in whatever ways they need. “What I value most about teaching is giving. As a teacher, you give a lot. Sometimes teachers don’t realize this, but students can carry what you give them for the rest of their lives. It could be something different from what you teach them in class, like the way you talk or handle yourself. Maybe they learn something from teachers who always come to class on time or mark the assignments on time,” she said. “A teacher who talks to students and encourages them and tells them that they’re going to make it in life has a heavy impact.
“I just want to give students hope that there’s going to be a better future. That’s why I’m always so happy when I see my former students working. I’ll learn that they’re giving immunizations or working in public health offices, and it’s a really good feeling. It motivates me.”
Marin Harrington is a graduate assistant in Hollins’ marketing and communications department. She is pursuing her M.F.A. in creative writing at the university.