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Emory students selected for public health talk with Bill Gates
computer screenshot of group of people in a meeting

Four Emory graduate students were among a select group to participate in Gates Notes Deep Dive, an online conversation with tech pioneer and philanthropist Bill Gates.

You’d forgive William McCollum for being a bit starstruck, considering he was one of only six students from American universities who were selected to participate in an online chat with tech pioneer, philanthropist and billionaire Bill Gates.

McCollum, Savannah Miller, Ngozi Ugboh and Caitlin Plumb were nominated to participate in Gates Notes Deep Dive by Rebecca Martin, vice president for global health and director of Emory Global Health Institute (EGHI). This special series, launched by GatesVentures, brings together high-performing, high-potential graduate students for a learning session and Q&A.

All four Emory nominees are second-year students at Rollins School of Public Health. Miller, Plumb and McCollum are EGHI Student Advisory Committee Executive Board members. Ugboh is a former executive board member and currently serves on the EGHI Student Advisory Committee.

At the virtual event, the Emory students spent almost three hours in a discussion and Q&A with Gates, focusing on pandemic prevention: improving disease surveillance, building a global response team, strengthening health systems and developing breakthrough tools such as vaccines and therapeutics.

“Being selected for this opportunity and getting to meet a pioneering business mogul who has inspired me and many others was a truly extraordinary experience,” McCollum says. “I recently authored a thesis on vaccine hesitancy, which I had just submitted the night before. He commended my original scholarship on this topic by saying, ‘It’s great that your thesis is looking at how we can do better with our narrative. That's really fantastic.’ I was thrilled to have written a thesis that made Bill Gates happy.”

Plumb says she appreciated the opportunity to meet students from all around the world and that she learned a great deal from listening to Gates and other speakers discuss pandemic preparedness.

“I gained new connections in my global health network and a deeper understanding of the issues,” she says. “I feel very lucky to have been selected for this opportunity.”

In a blog post, Gates wrote about why he created the Gates Deep Dive. “One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet with smart people who are thinking about big problems,” he wrote. “Future leaders like them make me optimistic that brighter days are ahead.”

Gates also wrote about the evening’s discussion and shared a video of highlights, noting that “these grad students could help stop the next outbreak.”

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